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

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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Field trips are important to education

April 30, 2018

Learning can be fun and exciting, but it doesn’t always happen in the classroom. Kids can learn a lot from field trips.

Idaho lawmakers recognized the importance of learning outside the classroom. Last year, they passed a $2.5 million dollar bill to restore transportation funding for school field trips. The funding went into effect in July 2017.

This means that all of our kids were able to go on a field trip this school year. Right? I wish. My high school kids, middle school kids and my fourth grader have not been on a field trip all year.

Fortunately, my youngest is enrolled in (tuition) kindergarten. A portion of the tuition fees goes toward kindergarten field trips. These field trips have provided my daughter with numerous hands-on learning experiences, such as:

  • Exploring a local farm to learn how plants grow and how a farm is run.
  • The importance of staying active in the winter, by going to a trampoline park with classmates.
  • Creating healthy eating habits and understanding how a grocery store operates, by going on a walking field trip to the local Albertsons.
  • The importance of protecting the habitat of native Idaho wildlife by taking a guided tour through the Idaho Nature Center.

I know that my daughter could have learned all of these concepts in the classroom, but it would not have had the same impact.

Field trips are an important aspect in our children’s education. The government has allocated money for our public schools to take our kids on field trips. How is your school using the additional funding? Have your kids been on a field trip this year?

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What’s the best lunch option?

April 25, 2018

I used to make lunches for my kids. I would get up early to cook a healthy breakfast and then I would pack lunches. I always packed the same basic ingredients (just like my father had done for me); a sandwich, a snack, a fruit and treat. If I was really on the ball, I would even write them a cute note on a napkin that said something like; “have a great day,” or “you are my favorite third grader,” or “good luck on your test today.” I felt like a great mom, because I was making them breakfast and sending them off to school with a healthy lunch.

Every now and then, my kids would complain that they never ate “hot lunch” like the other kids. I decided to print out the lunch menu, and let them pick the school lunches they wanted. I didn’t feel like the school lunches were as healthy as my homemade lunches (corn dogs vs. homemade wheat bread sandwiches), so I limited their school lunches to once a week. I felt like it was a healthy compromise. If the lunch was really good, sometimes I even went and ate lunch with them.

Everything seemed to be going well, until I noticed that my kids sometimes came home starving. I checked their lunch boxes and noticed that they didn’t eat all of their food. They told me that they didn’t always like the things that I put in their lunches, so they didn’t eat it.

I had to come up with a new plan. I already felt overwhelmed in the mornings, so I decided to put my kids in charge of making their own lunches. It didn’t seem fair for my younger children to have so much responsibility, so I put the older children in charge of making lunches for the younger ones. It turned out to be a brilliant idea. Not only did it free up a portion of my morning duties, but I inadvertently taught my children work, sacrifice and customer service. The child in charge of making lunches had to listen to the opinions of his siblings, and had to work to find a solution (“I hate tuna, I want peanut butter and jelly” or “I want apples, not oranges”). My kids learned to work together to create a balanced meal.

Now that my kids are older, most of them make their own lunches. They even discovered that if they make their lunches at night, then they can sleep a few extra minutes in the morning.

What do your kids do for lunch? Do they eat at the school or take lunches from home?

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Online schools didn’t work for us

April 20, 2018

When my family came to Idaho 15 years ago, we had three little kids. We moved to a lovely rural town with a small public school. Each grade had only one class, with an average size of 22 students. Six of my seven children were able to start their education in that small school. I felt like it was good fit for my family because my kids were getting a good education and they enjoyed their teachers.

As my family grew and my kids advanced to middle school, I began to wonder if the small public school was still the right decision for my family. I loved the elementary school and it’s teachers, but the middle school and high school did not provide the kind of education I wanted for my older children. We debated moving, but instead decided to enroll our three oldest children in a rigorous online middle school and high school program. Our four youngest continued going to the public school.

Idaho does not regulate homeschool education, so I was able to choose the program and classes that I wanted. Online school seemed like a great solution for our family. We set our own daily schedule and I regularly monitored my children’s grades and progress. I was very involved and constantly helped them understand their assignments and work on projects. It was demanding and exhausting, but I felt like I was giving my kids the kind of education they needed.

The first year of online school was more challenging then we were expecting. The second year we made several adjustments. But by the third year, we decided that online school was not what we wanted either. It didn’t work for us. We moved our family and my kids were able to transfer to a different public school to continue their education.

When I read the article about Idaho’s virtual schools failing, I was not surprised. From my experience, it takes a unique student and a lot of support, for a student to be successful in online, or virtual school.

Online school can be difficult for many reasons:

  1. The students do not get to know or personally interact with their teachers (and vice versa).
  2. They do not have opportunities to learn in group settings with other students.
  3. Subjects like math and science are more difficult to understand in a virtual classroom.
  4. Students have to spend the majority of their school day in front of a computer.
  5. Hands-on elective courses are not available online.
  6. They do not get to interact with other students in social settings.
  7. Unless the student is extremely motivated and organized, they may fall behind.
  8. Online learning can make a student feel isolated and depressed.

What do you think about virtual schools and online schools? Can a student get a good education at a virtual school?

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Should student-athletes be required to find their own rides to events?

April 19, 2018

My high school student enjoys playing school sports. He was on the football team and is currently on the track team. Everyday, he stays after school, for several hours, to practice. He usually comes home after 5 p.m. tired, stinky and hungry. He works hard to keep up on his school work and often ends up doing his homework late at night.

I applaud my son’s desire to participate in school sports. I competed in high school sports, and I felt like it taught me discipline, teamwork, dedication and time management. It is expensive and time consuming, but I am supportive of all of it. All of it, except the transportation.

The rural high school where my kids previously attended bused all of their student-athletes to every sporting event. Our current school has a booster program that provides transportation to the student-athletes who participate in football. The kids on the track and field team do not. If they want to compete, they have to get a ride from a parent, drive themselves (if they have a license and a car) or get a ride with another track student.

I would like to be the parent that drives my son to and from all of his meets, but I can’t. The track and field meets last five or six hours long, and often conflict with my schedule (my middle school kids have track meets at the same time). My son is understanding, and often catches a ride with other students. I am not very comfortable having him ride with other teenage drivers, but most of the time, it is the only choice I have.

Is your student-athlete required to find transportation to participate in high school sports? Does it seem unsafe for high schools to expect students to ride with other teenagers to attend their sporting events?

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I am glad Idaho requires a senior project

April 17, 2018

The state of Idaho has pretty simple graduation requirements:

  • Take three years of math (one during the senior year).
  • Take three years of science.
  • Take the ACT or SAT exam (before the senior year).
  • Complete a senior project.

You can access a more detailed list of the requirements here.

Each high school can individualize graduation requirements, in addition to the ones the state has set. My senior transferred to his current high school as a junior, so when he began school last fall, we set up a meeting with his counselor. We wanted to make sure he had all of the classes he needed to meet the graduation requirements.

Once his schedule was reviewed, I asked the counselor several questions about senior projects. I didn’t know anything about how the projects were completed. All I knew was they required a lot of work and a passing grade to graduate.The counselor assured us that the project would be discussed, worked on and reviewed, in his senior English and government classes. She said he would have assistance every step of the way.

Beginning in January, my son spent countless hours researching the positive impact the NASA program has had on society. He analyzed and wrote his project, and then created a presentation. He needed to practice, so I was able to hear and view his final senior project. It was impressive. He went to the school and presented his senior project (and passed!).

I am glad Idaho requires a senior project. It teaches kids skills they can use in their future careers. It gives them confidence that they can do massive projects, and it gives them the opportunity to give a polished written and oral presentation.

Did your senior complete a senior project? Did you think it was a worthwhile use of their time? What’s your opinion?

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Studying local politics is an eye-opening experience

April 13, 2018

Getting involved in politics and voting has been very interesting and eye opening. I’m not sure I would have taken the time to research candidates or study the ballot, if it weren’t for this job (blogging for Idaho Education News). Because all of my kids are in school, I have moments of free time during the day when I can sit at my computer (in peace) and learn. I am sorry that I didn’t educate myself sooner. Understanding voting and researching candidates is not nearly as difficult or boring as I thought it would be. I hope that my blog will encourage and inspire others, like me, to learn more and vote with confidence.

This week I furthered my education in politics, by going to a social hour and listening to a debate.

Social Hour: On Tuesday I attended a social hour for Go Lead, a non-profit organization that encourages women to become leaders. I attended the event because I support the mission and because the guest speaker, Betsy Russell, was speaking about the importance of becoming an informed voter. She shared some very interesting statistics about voters and voting. She said that less than a quarter of registered voters, actually get out and vote. Less than a quarter, wow. That means that the people who are in local office are chosen by a very small percentage of the population. Betsy encouraged the audience to get informed and seek information about the candidates from several sources (The Idaho Statesman, KTVB and Idaho Education News). She encouraged voters to go out and ask the candidates questions. Questions like, “why are you running for office,” and “what do you hope to accomplish?” I left the event with an even greater desire to learn all that I can about those running for office.   

Debate: I was not able to attend the superintendents debate at Boise State University, because it was at the same time as the social hour. I knew that it would be recorded and posted on Idaho Education News’ Facebook page, so I watched the video of the debate.  It was long (over an hour), but very informative.

Before I watched the video, I did not know very much about the candidates: Sherri Ybarra (R), Jeff Dillon (R), Cindy Wilson (D) or Allen Humble (D). I wasn’t even sure who I wanted to vote for. Watching the debate helped me better understand the goals and passions of those running for office. Ybarra was not able to attend the event, so I still need to make an effort to learn more about her.

The debate was super interesting. The candidates were each given opportunities to discuss their platform and vision for the job of superintendent. They were asked several questions — questions about school safety, the CTE program in rural schools, the 60 percent graduation goal, and bullying, just to mention a few.

If you feel passionate about education, or any of these topics, listen to the debate, research online, and ask questions. It will help you to decide who you want to vote for. It has for me.  

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Join me on my search for voter information

April 9, 2018

After taking my kids to school this morning, I noticed campaign signs, again. I came home determined to find more voter information. In my last blog, I figured out the date of the Primary Elections (May 15) and where to vote. I also discovered my precinct, congressional and legislative districts.

Today I want to figure out:

  1. How to register to vote and how to register with a specific party
  2. A list of who will be on the ballot

Hopefully it won’t take me too long (I need to clean the house).

In my search, I stumbled across this voter information packet. This packet covers the importance of voting, how to vote, and generally, when voting occurs. It also has an extensive list of contact information for county and state officials (if you need that).

Finding out if I was registered to vote, and my party affiliation, was easy. I used this Idaho Votes link, and input my county and name. If I want to be affiliated with a specific party, I could fill out this Party Affiliation Declaration Form and send it to my county clerk (all of the county clerk’s addresses are listed here). If I want to vote in the Republican Primaries, I must be a registered Republican. If I want to affiliate with another party, I do not need to be registered with that party to vote in their primary (only Republicans and Democrats vote in the primary elections).

Now that I checked my voter registration, I want to find a list of all the candidates running for office.

Twenty minutes later … here’s what I found, but it’s a bit confusing. This Idaho Statesman article has a list of the candidates running for each available office. This Idaho Secretary of State webpage has a link to the Candidate Information Directory. Interestingly enough, the two lists of candidates do not entirely match up.

Next time I blog, I want to research information about the specific candidates. Do they have a website, what are their goals for education, and keeping our kids safe?

Now I better get back to my mom jobs.

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I vow to be an informed voter

April 4, 2018

I have a confession. I vote, but sometimes when I go to the polls, I don’t know all of the candidates on the ballot. I try to be informed, but it’s a lot of work, and I have a lot of mom stuff to do.

I am sure that I am not the only mom (or dad, or voter) who has this problem. When I see the “vote for me” signs all over town, I think to myself, “I need to figure out who I want to vote for.” And then I get home and get caught up in the kids, dinner, homework, sports practices, and even a little Netflix (I’m being honest). I forget all about doing the research, until the next day when I drive past the campaign signs again. I make the same mental commitment to go home and research, but I end up struggling with the same distractions. It’s a vicious cycle.

But, since I made a New Year’s resolution to learn more about politics, this time it’s going to be different. I am going to learn all I can about the candidates and go to the polls with confidence. I will share what I learn, so hopefully I can help you become an educated voter, too. It is a big process, so I will start with the easy (but important) questions.

Step One:

  • What day do I vote?

Since Google knows nearly everything, I began with a search of “upcoming elections in Idaho.” IdahoVotes.gov was the second result (after Wikipedia). I clicked on it and began with the tab “important dates for voters.” November 7 came up. The problem with this date, is that Idaho is a predominantly Republican state. While the November 7 general election is important, a large majority of the candidate selections can happen in the primary elections.

So, I decided to search for a better site that would tell me more about the primary elections. My second search led me to the Idaho Secretary of State website. This website is very informative and gave a thorough explanation of the reason and purpose of primary elections. Because I was still in search of the basic information (when do I vote?), I followed a link at the bottom of the page entitled elections page. After scrolling through the entire calendar, I was able to find the primary elections date (Yea!)… May 15 (now we can all put it on our calendars).

Step Two:

  • Where do I vote?

I went back to ask google (the Secretary of State website didn’t have a tab for that), and found the right page on the first try! This Idaho votes page lets you input your address and then tells you your polling location (Yea again!).

Ok, I feel like I have accomplished something. Now my kids need me to read them a book (and maybe I need myself some Netflix). In my next post, I will sleuth more information and blog about it.

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What we learned from a college campus visit

April 2, 2018

My senior (and I) spent several hours in the fall applying for colleges. He wrote essays and applied for scholarships. When he received his acceptance letters, he was elated. Applying for college was a long process, and now he is trying to determine what school will be the best for him. His top choice invited accepted students to a preview weekend, so we decided to visit the campus.

As we drove, we came up with several questions. Here are the questions we asked (or learned that we needed to ask):

  1. Costs — What do tuition and books cost?
  2. Housing — What are the housing options available, what do they cost and (most importantly) what do current students think of the different dorms?
  3. Meals — What meal plans are available, what do they cost, where do students eat and is the food any good?
  4. Transportation — Do freshmen need a car, what does it cost to get a parking permit, what other transportation is available?
  5. Weather — It is very cold or hot? How much does it snow and/or rain?
  6. Clothing — What clothing is essential (snow boots, rain coat, business attire)?
  7. Registration — How and when do incoming freshmen register for classes?
  8. Transfer credits — Does the school accept high school dual credits/ concurrent credits/ AP credits?
  9. Placement tests — What placement tests do incoming freshmen need to take?
  10. Payment — How do students make tuition and housing payments?
  11. Immunizations — Does the college require current immunization records?
  12. Entertainment — What do students do for fun on and off campus? Do they have intramural sports?
  13. Greek chapters (sororities and fraternities) — What are the pros and cons of joining a chapter? What does it cost?
  14. Safety — How safe is the campus? Do they talk to incoming freshmen about safe/consensual sex, drug and alcohol abuse?

I am glad that we went to visit the campus. It was a bit overwhelming for my senior, but it was very helpful. We learned that the first choice my son had for housing was on the wrong side of campus. We also learned that he needs to move to campus a few days early, in order to join a fraternity. We found out about a mandatory three-day campus visit, where the students choose classes, make a four-year plan and register.

We have a long list of things to do before classes begin in the fall, but now we know where he wants to go and what he needs to do to be ready.

Has your senior decided where he/she wants to go after high school? How are you helping prepare them for college? What questions do you have?

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What do you do when it’s time for “The Talk”?

March 27, 2018

My sixth grader came home with a crumpled permission slip and asked me to sign it. It was for the dreaded “puberty talk.” He didn’t want his siblings to know about it, or for me to talk to him about it, because he was embarrassed.

I waited until bedtime and then I sat with my child and went over the basics of male and female puberty. I explained reproduction and answered questions. We have already talked about puberty and sex several times over the past few years, so it wasn’t new information. I usually begin talking about puberty and reproduction when my kids are young. I begin by explaining how animals mate, and how new animal life is created. It is very comfortable for my kids to ask questions about bunny rabbits and giraffes, and for me to show them pictures and explain the whole process of reproduction. When we talk about human reproduction, I can easily relate animal reproduction to humans. It makes the conversation a little less awkward.

When my son came home from school the next day, I asked him to tell me what he had learned. His “puberty and sex talk” was actually two short video clips he watched with the other boys in his physical education class. He told me that the actors were very old. I wasn’t sure what he meant, so he explained that they were wearing tie-dyed shirts and making peace signs. I’m sure that the video he watched was made in the 1970s. Idaho has not changed it’s sexual education standards since the 1970s. If my kids are watching educational videos made in the 1970s, there’s a good chance that it is the same educational video that I watched as a kid. When the students finished the video, the teacher asked them if they had any questions. Not surprisingly, no one raised their hand.

I wish the school website had a link to the videos that they show our kids. I would like to know what my child learned about puberty and sex. I would like to discuss the video and address what was taught.

How do you talk with your kids about puberty and sex education? Do you know what your school teaches?

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How the middle school running club ruined my dream

March 23, 2018

I love to run.

I grew up running with my father. He was a long-distance runner, who completed several marathons (26 miles) and ultra marathons (up to 100 miles). I admired him and wanted to be like him.

When I was in sixth grade, my father encouraged me to run my first race, a 10 k (6.2 miles). He helped me train and then ran every step of the race with me. When I entered high school, he signed up to be an assistant coach for my cross country and track teams. He came to every practice and every meet. Most days, he  laced up his shoes and ran with us.

I wanted to be like my father, and instill this same passion and love for running in my children. I wanted to coach my kids and run with them at practice. My three oldest children (boys) chose to follow my husband’s passion for football and forgo running (although they did join the track team to boost their speed per the football coach’s suggestion).

When my oldest daughter started eighth grade, I was very hopeful. This was going to be my opportunity to instill a love of running in my daughter. When she came home with paperwork announcing the start of the cross country season, I encouraged her (and her little brother!) to join the team. They joined the team and ran everyday after school. They ran in the heat, in the rain, and at the meets…. and they hated it. They weren’t very good, and it was too hard and too boring. The season ended with both children vowing to never run again.

Just as I was about to give up on my dream of running with my children, my daughter told me about the middle school running club. A few of her cross country friends were doing it, and she wanted to join them. Even though I couldn’t run with her (it was right during pick up times for my other kids) I was very excited. Everyday after school, I would ask her about her workouts and we would talk about running.

Then, a few months ago, a friend of mine told me she was planning on running a half marathon with her 12-year-old daughter. I eagerly told her that my daughter was a runner, and that she might be interested in running the same half marathon (with me). When I brought it up to my daughter, she laughed at me and emphatically said “no.”

I didn’t give up. I told her that we could train and run (or walk) together. I told her that it would be a fun mother/daughter bonding experience. I told her we could strategize and plan how to run the race. Surprisingly, a week later, she said she wanted to run the race with me. It might be pretty cool to run a half marathon after all, she said.

I paid the race entry fee and planned our travel. Next was to start running together.

That’s when I realized she didn’t need me. She had the middle school running club. She ran Monday through Thursday with her friends and coaches. On Fridays, she chose to run by herself. Maybe I was a little too intense. Maybe she worried I would run too fast. Whatever the case, she ran with the running club instead of me.

I can’t complain, even though we didn’t get to train together, I still got to run the race with her. We shivered at the starting line, and ran every step of the 13 miles together. We even crossed the finish line together.

I am proud of how hard she worked and trained. I am grateful the school running club was able to give my daughter the same gift my dad gave me — she loves to run.

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What are the best ways to deal with bullying?

March 20, 2018

My family has a dinnertime tradition of asking each other to talk about a “rose” and a “thorn” from our day. Sometimes our kids talk about how hard a test was (thorn) or how boring their accounting class was (thorn). Sometimes they talk about making good food in home economics (rose) or how much they enjoyed track practice (rose). It is not a lot of information, but it does help me talk to my kids about their day.

One of my kids has a recurring thorn. She frequently mentions problems that she has with another student. The problems usually happen on the playground, and they are usually minor. Her older siblings always respond by telling their sister that her “friend” is mean, and that she needs to play with someone else. I also encouraged her to play with different kids or to communicate her feelings (ie. “when you do ___, it hurts my feelings”). It hasn’t been a daily problem, or a very serious problem, so I haven’t worried too much about it.

Last week her thorn was much worse. My daughter was embarrassed as she told us the details of how two kids had physically hurt her. Her two “friends” had made sure that they were out of sight from the recess duty before they bullied her. My daughter was eventually able to run away, but she didn’t tell anyone until dinnertime.

This time I didn’t ask my daughter to find different friends, or to communicate more effectively. This time I wrote an email to her teacher and the school principal. I told them all of the details of the event at recess. I told them how my daughter felt and that I hoped that they could help remediate the situation.

Later that night I sat with my daughter and asked her about every bullying incident that had occurred this school year. I wrote each incident down, so I could give it to the principal. I was shocked to learn all of the names that she had been called (I didn’t even know she had been called names), and the little things that were stolen from her desk when she was away, in addition to the physical bullying. Once I saw it all on paper, I realized how much she had been bullied, and my heart hurt. I had thought the other kids were just kids being kids or that my daughter was overreacting. No, she was being bullied.

I got an email from the principal before school the next day. She began by assuring me that bullying behavior was not acceptable. She meet with me, and my daughter, to ask her about all of the times she had been bullied (she was grateful for the notes I had taken the night before). The principal apologized for my daughter’s mistreatment and promised to appropriately deal with the bullies and to prevent it from recurring. She even promised to make sure my daughter would not be in the same classroom as her bullies next year.

I want to tell you what I have learned from this experience:

  1. Ask your kids about their day — every day. Make sure you ask them about what they liked about their day, as well as didn’t like. Tell them about your day, too.
  2. Ask them about their friends. Sometimes “friends” can be the worst bullies.
  3. If your child seems uneasy with something that happened (on the playground, in the classroom, after school, etc), ask them how they felt about that situation, and why.
  4. Understand that your child might downplay a bullying incident because they were told (or they think) it is their fault.
  5. Make sure your kids understand that it’s never OK for others to physically hurt them or call them names.
  6. If your child is bullied, be empathetic and understanding (not questioning and blaming). Compliment them for showing bravery and courage (it is scary to talk about others hurting you).
  7. Inform the teacher and the principal of any bullying (email, call or make an appointment).
  8. Follow up with your child regularly, to make sure the bullying does not recur.

Bullying is serious. It can cause immeasurable damage. I am glad that my daughter had the courage to tell me about being bullied. I am glad that the school took my daughter’s safety seriously. Not everyone is as lucky. Just this morning, the Idaho Statesman reported a little girl (nearly the same age as my daughter) who tried to take her own life because of constant bullying.

Has your child been bullied? What do you think are the best ways to deal with bullying?

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Let’s not rush to pull books from shelves

March 15, 2018

Last week, a parent contacted the Galileo Middle School in the West Ada School District after noticing “inappropriate” material in the book, Looking for Alaska, by John Green. The school district reviewed the book and decided to remove it from all of the middle schools… without asking or informing parents.  I’m in West Ada, and I did not receive an email or notification about the book being pulled … and I get emails about everything.

This is not your average book. It has won several awards, including the American Library Association Printz Award for young adult fiction. I understand parents who get upset when students are assigned a controversial book. But this book was not part of a class assignment, it was just a school library book.

I’ll be honest, I have not read this book — yet. I know that it references drugs and alcohol and that it deals with mature themes like grief and forgiveness. Maybe some find it inappropriate for younger kids (sixth graders), but it might be a powerful book for older kids (eighth graders). Our middle school kids need to have access to books that are both immature and mature.

School districts leaders should ask for parent feedback before they remove a book from all of the middle schools. They asked for parent feedback in 2014, when they removed Sherman Alexie’s novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Why didn’t they hold a special meeting to discuss Looking for Alaska?

Besides, let’s not rush to pull books from shelves. Let’s lean on the side of letting families decide what’s the best reading materials for their kids.

I plan on getting the book (from the public library) and reading it with my 13-year-old.

Have you read the book? What do you think?

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Let’s overwhelm fear and sadness with love and kindness

March 9, 2018

A terrible tragedy occurred last month, when another school shooting happened in Florida. Several people were killed and the nation was wounded … again.

We all wish this would stop happening. We wish that we could send our kids to school and not have to worry about their safety. We want teachers to spend their time teaching, instead of learning evasive maneuvers (last week my child’s kindergarten class learned how to hide behind the teacher’s desk). We want our kids to be able to carry a backpack around school.

I ran the Boston Marathon the year before the bombings.

I walked the street in Spain one week before a terrorist drove his car over crowds of people.

The terrible truth is that bad things happen to good people. What can we do?

On March 14, students around the state (and nation) plan on walking out of school. It will be the one month anniversary of the Florida school shooting. They want to remember the lives of those who died. They want to spur Congress to take action. They want more gun laws. They want less school shootings. They want safer schools.

I wish that enacting stricter gun control laws could keep bad people from doing bad things. I wish that an act of Congress could prevent future pain and suffering. I would support a law if I thought it would help. I would support an action if I thought it would make a difference.

But what would make a difference?

Our kids want to walk out of school next week. I admire that they are interested and care about safety. I am proud that they want to exercise their right to free speech. But how does walking out of school help? Wouldn’t it be better to take positive action? Wouldn’t it make a bigger impact if kids stayed in school and practiced 17 acts of kindness, to honor those who died in Florida?

Let’s take action. Let’s overwhelm fear and sadness with love and kindness.

What are your ideas?

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Do your homework and be an informed voter

March 8, 2018

This Tuesday, many of us will be voting on bonds and/or levies for our local school district. I have received numerous emails and flyers from all my kids’ schools (elementary, middle and high school) with information about the election. I have been told to support education, support the teachers and to support the children. I have been told that my vote will help our schools run effectively and avoid future overcrowding. I have been told that the bonds and levies will help pay teacher salaries, remodel older schools and build new schools.

I love my kids and I care about their education. I want my kids (and yours) to have a great education. I support the teachers. I support building new schools to avoid overcrowding and I support remodeling old schools. I want all of it.

If I vote “no” does that mean that I don’t care about education? Does it mean that I don’t care about Idaho’s future? If I vote “yes” does it mean that I care more about the education of Idaho’s children?

It’s important we support our kids and their education. It’s also important to do your homework. So before you vote, take the time to study your school district’s budget and how much the state allocates to fund education. Take the time to review the campaign flyers so you know what’s at stake and what it costs.

Be an informed voter.

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What I learned about career planning for our kids

March 6, 2018

If you have an eighth grader, I hope you already know about the four-year learning plan. If you haven’t, you should talk to your school counselor. Idaho set aside millions (literally; $5 million in 2016 and an additional $2 million in 2017) to help our eighth-grade students plan their high school classes and beyond. The ultimate goal is to increase Idaho’s graduation rate and encourage graduates to continue their education after high school.

Today I attended a parent information meeting about my daughter’s learning plan. I had to sign up online so I could attend the meeting. I met with 88 other parents who had kids entering Eagle High or Rocky Mountain High schools. We were given high school course information and a four-year planner to fill out.

Here are some highlights of what I learned about the West Ada School District’s program:

  • The learning plan is meant to be a ‘road map’ for students entering high school.
  • The high school graduation requirements are listed, along with the necessary courses.
  • Students pick their classes early, so schools can hire the necessary teachers.
  • It can be revised annually (if the student changes their mind).
  • Eagle High expects student plans to be completed in about two weeks. (Rocky Mountain High plans are due in April).
  • The learning plan must be signed by a parent before it can be turned in.
  • Filling out the learning plan is not the same thing as registering for classes. Your child still needs to register for ninth grade classes, seperate to filling out a learning plan.
  • You may have to look online, or talk to the school counselor, to see the available elective courses and their descriptions (here is a link to West Ada course descriptions).
  • Some out-of-state colleges require more classes than Idaho high schools require for graduation. For example, two or more years of a foreign language or four years of lab science — so check with the college(s).
  • The high school counselor is supposed to go over each student’s learning plan again, before they start their junior year (I am still waiting for this to happen with my sophomore. … I may call the counselor next week).
  • If students lack credits to graduate, or they want to graduate early, or they don’t want to take P.E. during the school year, they can take online classes through IDLA ($75 per class) or take classes during the summer.
  • If an incoming senior has met the required credits (and required courses), they can take less than eight credits their senior year. This means they can skip a class…I’m not sure why Idaho does this. How does this help seniors prepare for college?

Many parents asked questions about AP classes vs. concurrent credit classes. Here is a comparison:  

Similarities — both courses are intended to be more rigorous than a regular high school class. Both courses (if passed) provide the student with college credits (depending on the college).

Differences — AP classes are graded on one test at the end of the year, vs. concurrent credit classes that are graded throughout the year (like a regular class). AP classes count one point higher for the student’s GPA (although not all colleges look at the adjusted GPA). Concurrent credit courses can be taken from a variety of Idaho colleges. My two high school kids have chosen to take concurrent credit classes instead of AP classes.

Overall, I was really glad that I attended the informational meeting. This was the first year that West Ada School District has held an information meeting for the parents (Enough parents complained about the complexities of filling out the learning plan).

I love the learning plan. I think all high school’s should be required to hold a learning-plan informational meeting for parents (I’m sure the $7 million dollar budget can cover the cost). Fortunately, I have two kids in high school that helped my eighth grader understand what classes she needed to take (and which teachers were the “best”). If you need help for your eighth grader, or who want to know more about the learning plan, contact your high school counselor, email me, comment on this blog post or start the discussion on Facebook.

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CTE program prepares kids for the workforce

February 28, 2018

Last week my eighth grader received a letter inviting her to take CTE elective courses. I didn’t know anything about the CTE program prior to this invitation, so I will share what I have learned.

CTE stands for Career & Technical Education. The goal of the Idaho CTE program is to teach students skills that will help prepare them for the workforce. Six of the programs begin in ninth grade, the other 12 programs do not begin until 10th grade. Most of the students can receive college credits, industry certification or possible internships in each field.

This program has courses in:

  • Automotive Services
  • Health Sciences
  • Protective Services
  • Computer Sciences
  • Plant and Animal Sciences
  • Culinary Arts
  • Construction

I think the program is very innovative. It teaches kids useful and employable skills. It also gives them the opportunity to “try out” a potential career. In some instances, students can even work in the field as part of their education, like the Renaissance Cafe.

One of the amazing benefits of the CTE program, is the high percentage of students (94%) who graduate and get a job or go on to college. With Idaho’s graduation rate at 79 percent programs like this one have the potential to increase graduation rates and prepare students for the workforce.

My daughter is looking into the culinary arts program. I can’t wait for her to start making some amazing dinners!

What are your experiences or thoughts on CTE programs?

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