Tag Archives: students

The case against summer vacation! Why? Because it means a “slide” for our students!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

Only kidding! But now that I have your attention, let’s look at why we should be concerned about students losing academic growth in the summer because literacy activities are not taking place. Yes, this is referred to by many as the “SUMMER SLIDE.” Deprived of healthy learning, millions of low-income students lose a considerable amount of what they learned during the school year.

A study by Johns Hopkins University adds to the mounting evidence of the “Summer Slide.” Inner-city or low-income students start out behind their more middle-class students and fall behind each year with most of that loss occurring when school is out. By the end of the elementary school years, Hopkins researchers found low-income children trail middle-income classmates, in some cases, by three grade levels.

“Children whose parents are college-educated continue to build their reading skills during the summer months,” said Karl Alexander, a Hopkins sociology professor involved in the research. “You go to a museum or you to a library or you go to the science center, and through osmosis you make some headway there.”

Professor Alexander, in his 2007 study at Johns Hopkins University, stated that two thirds of the reading achievement gap between 9th graders of low-and high-socioeconomic standing in Baltimore public schools can be traced to what they learned or failed to learn over their childhood summers. The study, which tracked data from about 325 Baltimore students from 1’st grade to age 22, points out that various characteristics that depend heavily on reading ability, such as students’ curriculum tract in high school, their risk of dropping out, and their probability of pursing higher education and landing higher paying jobs, all diverge widely according to socioeconomic levels. Does this happen in other advanced industrial countries? According to Mr. Alexander, the answer is NO, for those countries go to school 230 to 240 days a year as compared to 180 in the United States.

Low-income children actually keep pace with more affluent students during the academic year but slip behind during the summer. Researchers feel that during the school year, children in both affluent and lower–income communities benefit from the “faucet theory.” Learning resources are “turned on” for ALL CHILDREN during the school year, but in the summertime the faucet is turned off. Middle-class parents can make up the loss with their own resources, but working class and poor parents have a difficult time creating enriched learning experiences for their children over the summer months. All parents want the same things for their children, but low-income parents do not have the same access to opportunities for their children.

Summer deserves attention because when it starts, learning STOPS for many children. Children without resources spend their summer months playing on street corners or in front of the television. By the time the bell rings on a new school year, the low-income students have fallen months behind.

Given this powerful evidence, what can we do to turn on the LEARNING FAUCET during the summer? Experts believe that what is needed is a lengthening of the school year if we are to make a difference in the education of our low-income students. Due to the cost, however, it is just not going to happen. So what can we do about this intenable situation?
This year, the Worcester public schools system has expanded its summer program having it start July 5th and ends on July 29th. Academic program hours will be 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. In addition, five schools, Canterbury Street, Clark Street, Norrback, Elm Park and Quinsigamond, will offer programs from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Recreational activities will take place during those hours. The academic sites are as follows: Belmont, Burncoat, Canterbury, Chandler Elementary, Jacob Hiatt, Chandler, City View, Clark Street, Norrback, Columbus Park, Goddard, UPCS, Elm Park, Grafton Street, Heard Street, Lake View, Lincoln Street, May Street, McGrath, Quinsigamond, Rice Square, Roosevelt, Tatnuck Magnet, Thorndyke, Union Hill, Vernon Hill, Wawecus, Woodland and Worcester Arts Magnet.

I would urge parents to sign up now to attend one of those school sites!

As a former school principal I am convinced that the research on the “summer slide” is real and we need, as a school system and as a community, to do something about it. At the Worcester School Committee level, I have advocated for more reading for our children during the summer time and have asked that some school libraries give our parents and children an opportunity to take out books for summer reading. Many parents, due to transportation or work, cannot get their children to the Worcester Public Library. Allowing our children to take out books at their neighborhood schools will put books into their hands. I have also asked that through Connect Ed, (a way of calling all parents in Worcester), we call during the summer to remind our parents and students about their summer reading assignments. I have also asked that math ideas be given to our parents for summer practice. I would advocate that our students practice and master their math facts through math games and flash cards.

I have also advocated that we remind our parents about the importance of reading to their child EACH and EVERY night. With that in mind, I filed an order to have our schools talk about this issue with our parents. If we could get our parents to read just 25 minutes a night, we could revolutionize public education. Finally, I have asked that every school have a “Summer Reading Kick-off” during the week of June 12 and invite our parents to attend. Parents need to know the facts about the summer slide and what they can do to assist their child during vacation time. At the “kick-off” the schools will give students books from the “Worcester: The City that Reads Committee” as mentioned in our last issue and alert parents about our mandatory summer reading program. Children from grades K to grade 8 will read at least FIVE books during the summer. Parents will get instructions on how to choose a book and about writing a summary paragraph about the books. In grades 9-12, the students will read three books and write a multi-paragraph response for each book read.

Other ideas for parents to consider:

• Visit your Public Library and participate in Public Library summer programs; make sure that your child is reading a book each and every day. Use opportunities like the new Harry Potter release to get your child to read or take out a book based on a movie that he may want to see.

• There are many summer camps in almost every price range. Check with your school, the YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Club, Friendly House, Rainbow Child Development, for these organizations offer programs that can assist your child in learning while they have fun, too.

• Take educational trips, which can be low-cost visits to parks and museums in Worcester. If you have a car, visit educational sites such as Old Sturbridge Village. Check with the Worcester Public Library, for they have free passes to local museums.

• Work with your child on a hobby. If they are interested in comics or technology, you may want to expose them to as many opportunities as possible.

• Practice math skills every day. Think about opportunities through cooking to learn fractions or trips to the grocery store as a way of learning math skills. Also, every time you’re going for a walk or for a ride in the car ask them some math facts or make it into a game. Just playing cards on the grass could turn into a math game. Example: you turn over a card- 9- and your child turns over a card – 6- you could multiple, add or subtract. As you travel or walk in the city, do you think you’ll be stopped by more red lights or be able to go with more green lights? Keep a tally to check your guess. Pizzas offer a chance to talk about shapes and fractions. As you cut a pizza into equal pieces, count the pieces and describe the pieces with their fraction names. For example, if you cut it into 4 pieces, then each piece is 1/4th of the whole pizza.

• Limit time with the TV and video games. Just like during the school year, there should be a similar strategy over the summer months. It always makes sense to provide structure and limits. The key is providing a balance and keeping your child engaged.

Parents can also sneak some academics into summer for their child from pre-school to middle school with the activities below:

• Family Night each week. Bring out the popcorn and read a book. Try once in a while to get a book based on a movie. Then, show the movie and see if the book followed the movie script. Many movies can be obtained at the Worcester Public Library.

• Let the Games Begin – Janet Braverman, math specialist from Reston, Virginia, recommends playing board games and cards with children. Anything with numbers or counting helps. She plays Monopoly Junior and feels that it’s a fun way to learn addition, subtraction and counting money.

• If you are able to go to the beach, try collecting seashells and count them. Try drawing circles in the sand, size of a dinner plate, and have children place the shells in the circles by fives, and then have them work on counting by five or whatever number you come up with.

• Build your child’s comprehension listening skills by having an adult read and then discuss the story with them.

• Be sure that your child has a diary in the summer time, and have your child write the highlights of his day each evening before going to bed. Other writing activities could be writing a letter to a friend, relative or even to a member of the School Committee, – me! It’s important that your child writes, for the more that he writes, just like reading, the better he will become with this skill. In addition, be sure to have your child write about their favorite book that they read this summer and send their essay to me – John Monfredo, 8 Cherokee Road Worcester, Ma., 01606. I will select the winning essays from grades K to three, grades 4 to six, and from seven up. The winners will be awarded new books.

• Listen to your child read. Use strategies to help your child with tricky words. For example, when your child comes to an unfamiliar word, you might say, “Skip it and read to the end of the sentence. Now try again. What makes sense and looks like the word that you see?”
I sincerely hope that I have raised parents’ awareness of the importance of supporting their children’s learning in the summer time in reading and math and by providing ideas that can be done at home. Parents, you are the child’s first and most important teacher. It is up to you to provide the needed guidance during summer time. You can prevent the “summer slide” – I have the confidence that you will do it.

Worcester’s Level 4 Schools, Union Hill and Chandler Elementary: Moving forward!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

“Turning around persistently low-achieving schools requires a new way of doing the work that is transformative for the students and teachers in the school… the nature of the work demands a new vision for redesigning the schools and how districts support schools in that process. Bold action is required.”
– Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Back in March of 2010 the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced its list of 35 Level 4 schools. A school is deemed “Level 4” if its achievement is in the lowest 4 percent of schools statewide. Two schools in Worcester were on the list: Chandler Elementary and Union Hill School.

The new law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick last January, is designed to close the persistent achievement gap between the schools in poorer communities and those in richer communities. However, as mentioned in previous articles, the idea of closing the achievement gap is a difficult choice, for the administration had a variety of punitive options to choose and the least restrictive was the removal of the principal. Thus, that was what Dr. Boone, Superintendent of Schools in Worcester, chose. The decision was supported by the Worcester School Committee.

At that time Dr. Boone stated, “These schools have worked extremely hard to provide a high-quality of educational opportunities for all the students enrolled there. While significant progress has been made, we acknowledge that the rate of progress has not met the state and federal benchmarks Continue reading Worcester’s Level 4 Schools, Union Hill and Chandler Elementary: Moving forward!

Stand for Children supports student outcomes in teacher evaluations

Stand for Children provided testimony recently at the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s monthly meeting in Malden to share their recommendations for Massachusetts’ educator evaluation guidelines. Stand for Children Executive Director Jason Williams and member Trisha Perez Kennealy spoke at the meeting and presented the Board with written testimony from parents, teachers, and administrators from across the Commonwealth.

“My lifelong work in public education has consistently shown that all students can achieve at high levels academically regardless of socioeconomic background,” stated Jason Williams. “Having an effective teacher greatly influences student learning and Stand for Children members are committed to ensuring that the state’s guidelines prioritize student outcomes as the most significant factor in a teacher’s evaluation.”

Stand for Children is advocating for Massachusetts’ teacher evaluation guidelines to prioritize evidence of student learning as the most significant factor, and up to 50%, of a teacher’s evaluation.

Student outcomes need to be taken into account using multiple measures, including but not limited to students’ growth scores on standardized tests. Additional changes to the current teacher evaluation system should include the use of an evaluation tool based on four categories to distinguish between varying skill levels, as well as more frequent self and peer-based evaluation cycles.

“As a Puerto Rican woman, I know that education is an equalizer. When I hear the drop-out rates in the Latino community, I cannot sit on the sidelines,” said Stand member Trisha Perez Kennealy. “I have to advocate for effective tools that will keep students engaged and keep them in school and one of those tools is an effective evaluation system for teachers.”

What do parents want from their kids’ schools?

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

Parents are the consumers; all schools should make every effort to attract them in a most competitive way. No longer are public schools a given, for parents now have options in the form of charter and private schools, as well as school choice. As Dr. Boone, superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools has stated on several occasions, “We want the public schools to be the school of choice for all of our parents.”

Thus far, in general, the Worcester Public Schools have been the choice of parents in Worcester. In 2009 and 2010 the Worcester Public Schools enrollment was 24,006 students. Worcester’s private, parochial and charter enrollment was 4,302 students. In addition, 342 School Choice opted out and 75 students School Choice opted in. Therefore, roughly 84% of the students in Worcester attend the Worcester Public Schools.

However, times are changing and, if a school system is to meet the needs of all the students, it certainly must continue with a strong education system and listen to the voices of the consumers – parents. Continue reading What do parents want from their kids’ schools?

Will things really change with Mayor Joe O’Brien at the helm? (he also heads our school committee)

By Rosalie Tirella

After reading all the pieces on Joe O’Brien’s inauguration day festivities (I wasn’t invited to the ball and InCity Times was emailed no public announcement about it to post in the paper so our readers could attend – unlike two years ago, when Konnie Lukes became mayor and I got ALL the info and a beautiful invitation to boot), I ask: Will things really change in Worcester with Joe at the helm? Will O’Brien really be any different from a pol who rewards his pals and punishes anyone who doesn’t agree with him? More important: Will things really change/improve in the Worcester Public Schools now that Mayor O’Brien says he wants to make the WPS system the best urban school system in America?

Actions speak louder than words, my momma always told me. This is what I have to go on so far: Continue reading Will things really change with Mayor Joe O’Brien at the helm? (he also heads our school committee)

The College of the Holy Cross and the culture of alcoholism

By Rosalie Tirella

Three or so years ago, after scores of InCity Times articles/Tony Hmura ads decrying the lewd, thoughtless and stupid behavior of dead-drunk Holy Cross students (one of our readers wrote us that a HCross couple was having sex in the hallway in the three decker in which she and her child lived!!!), I was at a corner store in the Madison Street/Southbridge street area of Worcester. I was heading to my car when a prepped-out (short haircut, loafer-wearing, no socks) late-40-something-year-old guy came up to me and told me: 1. He was visiting his kid at Holy Cross and could I give him directions to the school and 2. Could I also give him directions to the nearest package store (I think he even said “packie”!).

I was appalled. Here he was: the Holy Cross frat guy all grown up! Just as arrogant as he had been during his Holy Cross days – and, more important to me, just as big an alcoholic.

This weekend he was helping/enabling his kid to become an alcoholic.

I put two and two together: I gave boozer-dad directions to Holy Cross, but I didn’t tell him where the nearest package store was.

Then I got into my car thinking alcoholism IS A GENERATIONAL CURSE. It is passed on and on and on … from grandparents to parents to kids … from holiday parties to birthday bashes to summer cook-outs to wakes and to gatherings of all sorts (both happy and sad), with Holy Cross college being some kind of milestone for young alcoholics. Here the kids were: at school, away from home, under all sorts of pressure, enjoying all sorts of new experiences. Boozing, somehow, made things seem more real. Alcohol was/is a big part of Holy Cross students’ lives. And when Dad visits Holy Cross, he drinks, too, he parties, too. (Especially if there’s a football game! Go Crusaders!) Continue reading The College of the Holy Cross and the culture of alcoholism

New Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Melinda Boone: eager and ready to lead our schools

By John Monfredo, Worcester Public School Committee member

As the school bell rings for the Worcester Public Schools this fall, the staff and the students of our public schools will be greeted by Worcester’s first female school superintendent, Dr. Melinda Boone. Dr. Boone spent one week a month in Worcester since January prior to her official starting date of July 1, 2009. This arrangement was due to her contractual obligations in the Norfolk Virginia Public Schools and to give her youngest daughter the opportunity to finish her senior year in high school – thus demonstrating her commitment to education and family. Continue reading New Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Melinda Boone: eager and ready to lead our schools

Latest research on math; how you can help your students

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member

As our children explore and discover their environment, they are exposed to the world of math! Mathematics has become increasingly important in this age of technology. Children need a strong background in math. It’s essential that the school and the home work together to strengthen our children’s ability to understand and apply math in their everyday lives. Many school systems are paying attention to improving early-grades math curriculum instruction, for there is mounting research showing that boosting students’ confidence and effort in math can increase achievement.

For children to compete in the 21’st century global economy, knowledge in math is critical. Today’s high school graduates need to have a solid math background, whether they are headed to college or the workforce. To help ensure our nation’s future competitiveness in the global market, our country created a National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2006. Continue reading Latest research on math; how you can help your students