Back-to-School with Glasses and Water

Online, or rather Distance Learning for our kids this year means two super important items were added to personal our back-to-school supply list; Blue Blocking Glasses and a 64 ounce water bottle.

Blue blocking glasses protect eyes against harmful blue light and UV. Even at my age, I still have perfect vision. My kids recently had their vision tested and they have perfect vision too. So, I’m trying to do what I can to keep it that way. I picked up two pairs by Livho for $16.98. At that price, I’m not going to be worried if they lose them or break them– I can order more. Given their schedules require the to be online in front of a screen from 8:30a.m. to 2:45p.m., they will certainly come in handy. (I’ll leave healthy screen time thoughts for another post.)

Have you ever researched out much water you or your children should be consuming a day? (No, Diet Coke and coffee don’t count.) I recently came to learn that that at this age, my boys should be drinking 64-ounces of water a day. Of course, you can use a regular cup from the cabinet and drink water. However, I wanted something they could fill up before school starts each morning to give them a visual reminder to drink water while fostering independence (instead of Mom reminding them). It helps them be accountable for their own health. I came across a design by Opard for $14.99 that I love as it not only gives you a nudge as to when you should be drinking water to set you up for success but it gives you a little inspirational push.

In addition to these two deposits into their future health bank, because they are sitting so much while attending their online classes, as a general rule, it’s good to be mindful to move during the day. Even if that means standing while attending a Zoom meeting or taking a quick walk after lunch. That is if you have time to do so…

Speaking of such, if I had a magic wand, the one thing I would change about the Distance Learning schedule this year would be that our entire district gets one hour earmarked for lunch at the same time, regardless of grade level. Currently, they only get 30 minutes for lunch and my boys don’t even get to eat lunch together. I wish school districts would realize that lunch is more than just about eating. It’s a time to connect with others, a time to take a walk, a time to regroup and destress, a time to help prepare a fresh meal…time away from the screen.

I hope your school year is off to a great start and that these tips help set you up for a healthy new year chapter in the book of learning!

Protecting Instructional Minutes

Could you imagine a for profit company being given privilege to students during instructional time to teach their own curriculum, not acknowledged by the school district or state, diverting a students time at school for their own corporate agenda? We need to look no further than the recent congressional hearings that took place with Juul. Not only did Juul have it’s own set of curriculum for students, which we have since learned representatives said the e-cigarettes were ‘totally safe,’ in addition, schools accepted money from Juul. This is why as parents and educators, we need to be especially mindful about who has access to our most vulnerable population; our children. Spoiler Alert: We’re not only talking about Juul.
What happens when we replace the company Juul with any fundraiser held during instructional minutes at school? While many of us are familiar with what fundraising is, we are not so familiar with regulations or policies that govern fundraisers. Luckily, if you are in a state like California, Educational Code 51520 is mindful of protecting instructional time.
Protecting instructional minutes means that fundraisers do not interfere and disrupt students regular daily schedule.
Many school districts already have great policies and guides in place to empower leadership and parent organizations to make decisions vested in the best interest of students. School districts need to adhere to the law. In fact, Los Angeles Unified School District has created a guide for school leadership and volunteer groups to make sure all adhere to the law.

“Not During Instructional Time” (slide 12/27 of LAUSD’s Fundraising Policy) highlights that:
  • this applies to those fundraisers that claim to have an instructional component
  • P.E. is still instructional time (aka running laps during class for outside pledges)
We should always use caution when a company tells school leaders they are teaching character lessons to students. As Faith Boninger, a research associate at the National Education Policy Center said, “A lot of commercial programs that try to get into schools will claim to be consistent with Common Core, claim to be bringing education values, but they’re not promoting the democratically agreed upon curriculum. They’re coming in as opportunists.”
I’m certainly not advocating that we should banish all school fundraisers. I’m simply saying that we should not only adhere to the law, but be mindful of who we give access to our children during the school day. School fundraisers can boost school spirit while raising funds for school. Fundraising is a part of public school culture, one in which, for many schools in California generates funds to hire specialists and offer enrichment classes. Donations poor in throughout the year from Educational Foundations and PTA’s with dedicated volunteers that collect money from parents and community members in hopes of providing a quality educational experience for students. The problem occurs when organizations aren’t aware of the law. That’s when the school district needs to to step up and empower those groups or be held accountable.

It’s For The Kids.

Back when I was on the executive board of the PTA at my son’s elementary school in Minnesota, I’ll never forget what someone said in regard to fundraisers, “We don’t pimp out our kids.” See, as a PTA, we were flooded with companies trying to get into our school to sell their products and host events. Our principal fully understood he was the gatekeeper of our school for these companies- something he didn’t take lightly. Our PTA knew that while money was important to support the school, we would never do so at a price that jeopardized our ethics, school mission and district policy.

That’s why it’s such a shock to me to learn that my son’s school entered a contract with a company called Apex. Apex is a for profit company that takes almost 50% of what children earn in pledges. The National Education Policy Institute and Charity Navigator do not have a favorable view of this company. (NBC San Diego actually did a segment on the company which you can view here.) The company inoculates the school campus for 8-9 days selling its message direct to students under “character lessons” in which classroom time is interrupted. It is also at this time when Apex awarded prizes to children in front of their classmates for earning pledges.

Students receive a code from Apex at school with directions for their parents to register them online with Apex. Every child, according to the teacher’s name can be viewed not only by parents and teachers, but the company Apex as well as its employees. This is how they know who to award prizes according to the leader board and how much everyone has raised. Not only is this a directory concern, this also creates an environment that encourages competition and disregards socio-economic diversity within our school community. This is direct from Apex’s website under frequently asked questions:

If I share from one student’s page, will my donors see all the students together with the same link? Will both students get credit?
ANSWER: Yes! When you Add Students, all sharing is now as a family. Regardless of whose page is shared, donors will see a combined page with all students names and pictures, and each of your students will receive credit for those shares (for instance, if you share 10 emails on the Get Pledges tab, both students earn 10 shares and the share prize at school).

The employees of Apex are given privilege to roam the campus and interact with children during lunch and recess daily prior to the actual race day –this includes a 3-hour pep rally during school to get everyone pumped up. As a community, it was not communicated with parents that the employees of this company would be interacting with our children daily -beyond the “character lessons” and the pep rally—at their lunch and recess too. There was no transparency in regard to the background of this company, how much a percentage they would be earning or the liberty they would have on campus.

Since we reached out to the principal and shared our views on this company and how we didn’t feel comfortable with people from this for profit company interacting with our child, we asked if there was an opt out form. This made it especially difficult because the principal was allowing this to happen during school hours. Opting out meant that our child was isolated into another classroom for Apex’s daily interruptions.

I was not alone in my concern. I later learned that many of our community members questioned why we were allowing this, who approved it and that “it felt really odd” for all these people to be roaming our school and interacting with the kids. I heard stories about how one child in a was crying because she didn’t get a prize. So, another little girl, showing empathy gave her the prize Apex awarded her with- and then she felt sad because she didn’t have a prize. Another person shared with me how their son came home begging them to pledge another five dollars. “Just five dollars more, Mommy. Remember, it’s not just for me, but for “X” because he’s in a wheelchair and will be able to play at our new playground.” That parent said what was really disturbing about that was that her first grader didn’t come up with that on his own- someone told him that. My own child shared with me how he returned back to the classroom and his friend came up to him with a cowboy hat Apex just awarded her, “My parents paid a lot of money so I could win this.” What exactly are the character lessons they are providing?

When it comes to fundraising, it’s important for school districts to have a plan to help principals and PTA’s navigate these waters in the best interest of all students:

  • How do we demonstrate that these for profit companies are fully compliant with district policies? Specifically, in regard to student privacy and safety.
  • Does the district have a long term and short term data sharing policy with commercial entities?
  • What is the framework for engaging these commercial entities and who governs this?
  • Does the district have a policy that governs how this type of engagement should be broadly shared, in transparency, with the community?
  • How do we ensure that students that elect not to participate in these activities don’t loose out on school time? Why would a fundraiser like Apex happen on school time?
  • How can we safeguard the social and emotional well being of all children involved?

Character Education is rooted in Community, not Corporate agenda. We need to think very carefully about who we give access to our children and schools to.

Clinton and Egger’s Inspire Us to Make a Difference

“As a minority (high school) student in a white affluent town, what can I do to help make my voice be heard?” Chelsea Clinton paused a moment and looked up directly at the young woman standing up in front of a sold out crowd of a thousand people, at an event hosted in the gymnasium of this young woman’s very own high school, “I’m sorry that you even have to ask that question.” Chelsea looked around the room adding, hopefully one of your teachers or administrators is here tonight to hear this. If not them, then parents here tonight because everyone has a right to feel like their voice is heard.

“Start Now! You Can Make a Difference” author Chelsea Clinton and “What Can a Citizen Do?” author Dave Eggers, moderated by NPR’s Glynn Washington of Snap Judgement engaged us last night in a theme of how kids can get involved, make changes in the world and filled us with hope by sharing their belief in kids and the future. While my purpose of attending with my 10 year old was to inspire him to embrace his voice, I didn’t anticipate how I would feel when I left. It was a humbling experience, especially after listening to students speak from Oakland, San Francisco State and our local high school. I left questioning what can I do better to lift not only my own child up, but all kids in my local community. Yes, local community because as Chelsea Clinton and Dave Eggers echoed, local is where all change begins…and then it builds.

Ironically, this event comes at a time when our local school district just launched an Inclusive Sign Project Everyone is Welcome Here in the San Ramon Valley that states, “We strive for a diverse, welcoming and truly inclusive community.” As wonderful as the design is, after listening to a few minority students speak that attend the local high school I was left to wonder if by simply welcoming *all* are we are doing enough to serve the students of our schools? Perhaps, we should be giving them a platform to voice their thoughts just as Chelsea Clinton, Dave Eggers and Wynn Washington did. Everyone is heard here.

Other students asked questions about how to get their voice heard, what would they tell their younger selves, what are some similarities and differences from now and when they were growing up as well as touching upon the topic of how to steer clear of fake news. Glynn Washington shared that he recently spoke at an event for 200 high school students and asked them how many of them are on Facebook. He said only 1 student raised their hand, so that’s a good sign for combating fake news. Kids are all on Snapchat and other social platforms. Dave Egger’s chimed in saying you need to make sure your source is a valid source- for example, don’t use Wikipedia. Chelsea Clinton reminded us that unfortunately things like fake news and hate travel much faster than kindness and love so we need to all play our part in helping create a better society. A key ingredient to that is digital citizenship lessons and being an Upstander (as opposed to a bystander) in regard to bullying and cyberbullying.

One thing that spoke to my inner child that my 10 year old and I discussed on the walk back to the car was about writing. Dave Egger’s shared that if he could tell his younger self one thing it would be edit, revise and revise. He shared that there is nothing more saddening than when he hears a 9 year old say that they are bad at writing. “No one is born a good writer; it’s a process.” Chelsea Clinton added that just the process of writing, even if at first you aren’t sure about what you are writing about, it will help you figure that out.

Chelsea Clinton shared how from an early age her parents taught her that with privilege comes a great responsibility to use that privilege as a platform to be in service to others. When we think about privilege, how can we empower our children and inspire our community to not only fill a need but use our platform to give a voice to others within our community that may be a minority? That doesn’t take any money or organized effort – we can make a direct difference by doing that now. Just as Dave Egger’s shows us in his book, “A citizen’s not what you are- a citizen is what you do.” That’s not only a great message for kids…

While kids can’t vote, how we vote certainly impacts them. Not just at the national elections, but the local school board elections, city council, assembly members and propositions to keep them safe or filter funds to their schools. These are important, visible and influential people in our community that will either simply welcome them verses hear them.

Before I tucked my 10 year old in at night, he looked up and smiled at me. “I bet her Mommy and Daddy are proud of her.” We are all proud of her. Thank you to our local bookstore Rakestraw for organizing this event, as well as Chelsea Clinton, Dave Eggers and Glynn Washington for spending an evening opening our minds to possibilities.








Social Media: The Billboard Approach

When my generation was younger we’d go to a concert and buy a t-shirt. We were in a sense walking billboards sharing that we went and have proof. There are some things that shouldn’t be billboards though, right? I’ve been thinking and researching a lot about how kids think about social media. Unlike the the concert t-shirt that was displayed when I chose to wear it, social media platforms enable users to share instantly with a wide audience. While the t-shirt fades, shrinks or tatters – once something is shared online, it really is a part of your permanent record.

I also remember being younger and not fully having the capacity to really think of the consequences of all of my actions or get “the big picture.” That’s because our brains are still evolving until we are in our mid-20s:

Their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal. And the other part of the brain that is different in adolescence is that the brain’s reward system becomes highly active right around the time of puberty…                                                                                         -Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist

Eek! “Around the time of puberty” is exactly when many kids are diving head first on social media platforms. Impulses, which tend to have us toss caution to the wind and instant gratification surfacing in a form of “likes” in combination with the development of the mind make way for a perfect social media storm. Think of what it was like growing up in the 80s or 90s and how social media has complicated “growing up.” Social media didn’t exist to broadcast our less than stellar decisions where we had to live them over and over again. For instance, we no longer live in a world where if a picture is taken we can rip it up, destroy the negative and be done with it.

This all the more reason to engage in a conversation about our actions and behaviors on social platforms. We also need to acknowledge that our use and intentions of social media, like the use of cell phones, varies from our kids perspectives. There are some things that we should think twice about before posting- especially in cases when we post to prove to something. What exactly are we trying to prove and to who? Sometimes the more we try to convince others, the more our own insecurities are revealed. You guessed it… this post doesn’t just apply to kids.

The Billboard Approach to Social Media is a creation I’ve come up with as a visual reminder to connect with prior to posting. I’d rather take a moment to pause before I post and ask myself questions like:

  • Do I have something to prove?
  • Is it private?
  • Is it illegal?
  • Do I have permission to share?
  • Will it make someone uncomfortable?
  • Will it start an argument?
  • Is this post about payback?
  • Is this mean spirited?
  • Would I say it in a room full of people?
  • Is there a possibility I will regret it?
  • Would I post it if my parents, children, teachers, partner or boss could read it?

We’ve entered into a season where peoples lives are an open book, posted one status at a time even sharing in the past tense while expressing in the present. Our conversations need to look beyond online safety. Our conversations need to pivot to digital footprints, legal repercussions and minding our manners on social platforms. This also means knowing when to STOP engaging with others online.

Social media platforms are like billboards representing each user. They are a reflection of  who we are, want to be and how others view us. Keep in mind colleges and potential employers search your social media profiles. Students have gotten in trouble and even expelled over social media posts along with people being fired from jobs. By thinking in terms of the Billboard Approach, we might be more selective about what we share and who has privilege to that information.

Topics off limits for a billboard in my life are…

  • My Marriage. Successful, meaningful relationships that are filled with heart aren’t  nurtured online. I’ll share my accolades with the one who it matters to.
  • Passive aggressive posts. I just don’t want to toss that out into the universe.
  • Other peoples kids (sharing pictures without permission) whether it be from a playdate, working with them at school or something I witnessed.
  • Posts that may make others feel excluded. I try to post with heart.
  • #Blessed. I never want to show gratitude under the disguise of being boastful about something.

What are some things that are off limit to you?