PSA: Social distancing at the length of a small gator

Hey friends: as a public health professional, I’d like to offer up a video that I thought did a great job of explaining the purpose of social distancing.

Thanks for all you are doing to protect our most vulnerable friends, family and neighbors.

If you’ve ever felt called to serve but never had time, this is the moment! All we’ve got to do is work at home, keep kids learning, chill out, do a puzzle, get a little bored, watch some movies, go for walks with our household members, ride bikes, give each other 6 feet (as my FLA husband knows, about the length of a small gator) and generally behave like there are no hospitals available to you for awhile.

As I recently heard Minnesota’s Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm say, #stayathome means social distancing is no longer a suggestion, it is a requirement. It is specifically required of those who do not work in “essential service” to our community. For those of you who do not, honor those of us who do: #stayathome.

Tweens and teens are especially vulnerable to isolation – it is practically developmentally inappropriate to ask them to stay home with their families for weeks with no social contact with peers. Yet, we’re doing it. This is hard. In public health, we plan for some weak links. Let’s make sure, as grown ups, we are not the weak links. In fact, if you’ve never considered yourself a role model, this is likely something you can absolutely nail for our kids and their grandparents!

Children and youth need time outdoors to play in order to grow and thrive. We all need to exercise in order to boost our immune systems and care for our chronic conditions and mental health. Please do. At the length of one small gator or more.

At the end of this, I invite each and every one of you over for a visit on our front porch. For now, I’d like to invite you all to break out your drums, bells, noise makers and voices, step out onto your stoops, and hoot and holler together each Monday evening at 5 PM from wherever you are.

Please share!

Need help?

Remember: It is ok to keep the bar low right now – the kids are all right. If things are not all right in your household, we have to learn to ask for help. Here are some resources: 

Minnesota crisis textline and suicide prevention: 741 741

Children’s mental health and crisis response in Minnesota

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is only a phone call away: 1-800-273-8255.

If you are in need of assistance with medical care or health insurance, Community Health Centers are a trusted resource across the U.S.

At Minnesota Community Care, we have completely transformed in order to meet the essential health care needs of our patients, offer screening for respiratory illness, and provide resources via social media to families and youth on managing anxiety, isolation, and school at home.

United Way supports 211 helps people across North America find local resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Here are some great home-learning resources from Common Sense Media: Wide Open School.

World-wide Free Forest School has published tips on how to get your kiddos outside and learning everyday! 

 

 

School Funding is a Warm Sweater

school funding is a warm sweaterI was recently standing around the printer for teacher’s use at my son’s public elementary school, waiting for my Lego League rules to print. In the 23 minutes I waited, 9 teachers popped in and out to see if their print job was done. “Yes,” they agreed. Printing and copying in this building is under-resourced right now.

This is an excellent public school with an amazing staff and campus. This is the same school that has a state-of-the-art adapted playground under construction. The same school that started receiving Title One funding for ELL, special education, and targeted efforts to close its achievement gap last year. And, the same school that can only afford to have a nurse on site 4 days a week (though this is more than most)! These discrepancies illustrate the complicated mess of algorithms that is public education funding.

A recent MinnPost article by Beth Hawkins likened our school funding challenge at this time to “the gradual opening of faucets after a reservoir has been refilled.” This image, however, leaves out some nitty gritty, yet significant, details, such as the fact that the reservoir is not actually full. Much of what it takes to educate Minnesota’s students is still funded by an entirely separate pool managed by voters who will choose to open or not to open the levies.

In addition, the fingers on the faucets are not those of administrators or educators or even school board members: it’s lawmakers. Which means, those faucets will dribble open (and shut) as they campaign for their offices, are educated by stakeholders in the first weeks in office, debate at the Capitol, hear influential commentary from constituents and special interest groups and make compromised decisions based upon popular beliefs, myths, and influences well outside of what is best for Minnesota students.

This is a dim view. The truth is, this is also the messy business of democracy at work and the spending of tax dollars. Almost every stakeholder, no matter their view, believes strongly they have children’s best interest at heart. Let’s try a softer image to better understand what happens at the school level, and why there are printer shortages and amazing playgrounds in the same building: an old sweater.

Let’s think of each district as its own sweater—Minnesota has 341 sweaters that were knit by the state itself. Within the weave of each sweater, there are strong and tight threads that maintain the basic integrity of the garment. There are also snags; loose threads that got hung up on unexpected obstacles. When snags became holes that will eventually become runs, threatening to destroy the utility of the sweater, the holes were patched. Sometimes patches are provided directly to that sweater by voter levies, benevolent philanthropists, grants, or parent fundraising. Sometimes the sweater has to go back to the original knitter for repairs, but this takes awhile: a very long while.

And then there are times that the knitters send all the sweaters patches, some bigger some smaller, some perfect fits and some that just barely cover the holes. The educators and administrators and school boards knit them into the fabric at the local level.

Sometimes there are particular spots that tend to wear and pill. Administrators are also in charge of deciding whether to pluck off the pilling bits or dry clean the whole thing to see if it improves overall. Sometimes shrinking the sweater in the wash is the only thing that will keep it from unraveling.

Thankfully, it is very rare that the knitters will recall a sweater, or even threads. Generally once it’s knit it’s knit. As the sweaters age some threads get loose, some remain strong, some snag, some simply dissolve.

It is also important to understand that, each thread, each row, each cross-stitch, was done according to the knitter’s pattern at the state. Though the sweater is under the care of each district’s administration and school board, fundamentally, they do not have the freedom to tighten lose threads by pulling on adjacent threads because each was tied by the knitters into different funding sources. In other words, in this system, furnace repairs cannot be paid for with salary freezes. New printers cannot be purchased with playground money.

Luckily in Minnesota, we really appreciate our sweaters. It’s cold here. We need to stay warm and generally, our sweaters endure under even the harshest of conditions.

 

Written for the Minnesota grassroots nonprofit, Parents United for Public Schools

A one-marshmallow world

“Stanford researchers see trouble ahead for kindergarten students with low self-regulation unless parents and teachers help.”

Summary: The basis of this article is new research surrounding the Stanford marshmallow experiment. As Sanders writes, “young children were offered one small marshmallow now, or two marshmallows in 15 minutes if they could resist eating the first one. Children with low self-regulation ate the first marshmallow. In follow-up studies these youngsters tended to grow up to be teenagers with lower SAT scores, higher body mass indexes and higher rates of drug abuse.”

Sanders goes on to explain that this study demonstrated first grade academic success is partially dependent upon “high self-regulation,” and “a low-conflict relationship between student and teacher.” The good news is that research from the University of California, San Francisco (http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/documents/Portilla-ObradovicANGxp1.pdf) shows that supportive classroom management and parent engagement can improve outcomes for kids who enter kindergarten with low self-regulation.

photo-4The scientist in me had to look deeply into the validity of the marshmallow experiment and this follow up, but it is indisputable: the study design was decent. “Low regulation” was determined in the secondary study by teacher and parent questionnaires rather than an oversimplified marshmallow test. I appreciate this. I also appreciate the findings: good parenting and good teaching can help kids who are not as emotionally ready for kindergarten to catch up before first grade. My discomfort doesn’t even lie with the fact that a good deal of money and time was spent proving what most of us assume logical. In fact, there is value in identifying factors that lead to school failure. But herein lies the rub.

This study rials me up for the same reason it bothers me that kindergarten no longer prepares kids for grade school. Kindergarten is the new first grade; ask any kindergarten teacher who has been in the business for 30 years. We now demand things of kindergartners that are not necessarily developmentally appropriate for all 5 and 6 years olds. For those who are not “ready,” we often point to their lack of pre-schooling or parenting instead of their lack of time out of the womb. I believe play serves a purpose longer than we give it run in the U.S., whether kids are at home or in daycare. I think creativity and art and time to think without letters and numbers and the constraints of a classroom environment, with abundant recess and songs and perhaps some digging, painting and moving, fosters better thinkers, learners, workers and citizens for today’s world. In fact, research also supports playtime. I wish for children that kindergarten still focused on organizing play and regulating behavior in preparation for first grade.

I think some kindergartners should want to snatch marshmallows and shouldn’t give a crap about the future. I think little ones should be praised for acting on their impulses and being in the present moment. Who decided wanting more is smarter? Perhaps one of many roots of the problem in education today is what is haled as THE SOLUTION in this study. Rather than kindergarten teachers receiving training to identify low self-regulation for targeted nurturing, I wish kindergarten teachers were trained to value low-self regulation because it is developmentally appropriate, embracing kids acting like kids and their wonderful present-mindedness and impulsivity.

What kind of culture shift would we create if kindergarten teachers felt able to be genuinely DELIGHTED by disregulation? I am not suggesting we allow children to act like monsters. My own children have manners they sometimes exercise and we manage their mood swings and choices. I am suggesting that if schools went one step further and actually accepted low self-regulation as developmentally appropriate, rather than encouraging “low” students to be more like the highly self-regulated kids currently destined to achieve, perhaps things would improve for everyone. Perhaps education equity would begin. Perhaps the achievement gap would start to close. Not because we caught them up, but because we saw the value in their childishness.

I am suggesting that perhaps the reason the less self-regulated children in kindergarten end up with lower SAT scores, higher body mass indexes and higher rates of drug abuse is actually because, from the moment they entered a school, the pressure to have children succeed on tests demonstrated to them that they were less-regulated, and therefore less prepared, and therefore less able, and therefore less destined to succeed than the kids who could wait for two marshmallows. I am suggesting there might be something intrinsically valuable about the kids who took one marshmallow: perhaps those kids just wanted one damn marshmallow from the beginning. But as soon as they reached for it, someone judged them. Perhaps the low SAT-scoring kids, and the fat kids, and the addicts were actually destined to be the leaders, and the innovators, and the feelers, until they were asked to be different, implying, that they weren’t enough from the beginning.

As a teacher, a camp counselor, an outward bound leader, a health educator and having spent most of my career with so-called “at risk” kids, I want to live in the world that THEY create. What I hope for my children and for the future of my world is that teachers across the country feel free to turn to the one-marchmallow kids and say, “you have just as much potential.” And NOT “you have as much potential as those other kids if you change, and soon.” But, “you have just as much potential, perhaps more, just as you are. Look over here kids, we have a leader among us.”