Monday, May 4, 2015

Hitting the Snooze Button on Sleepy Teens

Ask any parent who undertakes the daily battle of rousing a “sound asleep” teenager from bed at 6AM to catch a school bus, or get on the road to school, and I’ll show you an exhausted parent. In response to starting the school day at the crack of dawn and needing a jolt into “full academic mode,” younger and younger students are turning to caffeine and other forms of energy boosts to jar their adolescent brains awake. Just stop by any Starbucks in the morning.

The Dobbs Ferry Board of Education is currently considering the serious implications of adolescent sleep deprivation on student health and learning. Currently, Dobbs Ferry Middle School and High School have the earliest start times in Westchester County, as well as one of the longest school days. Although research is clear that changing circadian rhythms drive the delayed sleep-wake patterns of adolescents (sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty), school start times remain at the mercy of adult convenience, transportation, athletics and politics rather than the educational and health needs of kids. 

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report calling for later school start times for adolescents, stating that “a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.” The report also states that “studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems…and a decline in academic performance.”

But is sleep deprivation really an epidemic and is it a problem for schools to own? What responsibility do teens have in taking charge of their own health and how do parents play a role?

Concerns have been raised that teens will simply stay up even later if they think that they have a later start time for school. In the January 2015 edition of School Administrator dedicated to the topic of “Flexing School Start Times,” these concerns have not come to bear in districts that have tackled the school start time challenge.

There is no doubt that helping teens understand and accept responsibility for their health and wellness is a goal. We allocate resources and professional services in our efforts to keep adolescents healthy, both physically and emotionally. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have emerged as a serious health issue for not only teens, but adults as well.

Today’s teenagers are busier than ever with extracurricular activities, homework, after-school jobs and the proliferation of technology and 24/7 use of social media. I’m yawning just thinking about the lack of sleep that our students get during the weekday. Maybe we can’t control all of these factors, but even an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning might make all the difference.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Please Opt In

There. I have said it. And although it goes against every fiber of my deep-seated, rebellious, rabble-rousing nature, it needs to be said.

Last week, our Board of Education, parents, teachers and administrators, participated in a well-attended book chat to discuss National Public Radio’s Digital Education Reporter Anya Kamenetz’s The Test – Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing But You Don’t Have To Be.

We’ve heard over and over again from teachers who are working tirelessly to preserve their practice while they continue to create classrooms where children still love learning. The new requirements of the Common Core are hard, for teachers and kids. But they are doing it.

Is the bar high? You bet! Are the kids reaching for it? Like champs!

Dobbs Ferry is a unique, diverse village, and we value our small schools. Every kid counts. Every teacher counts. Our community is only as strong as the reputation of our schools. Rightly or wrongly, families moving from places near and far look at standardized testing scores and draw conclusions about our schools.

Students who are “opted out” of testing by their parents diminish the excellent work being done each and every day. It unfairly penalizes teachers whose end-of-year evaluations are weighted by the performance of their students. Students coming to school and “drawing pictures” with the bubble dots in a show of defiance only hurts them and their teachers. This past year, we have scrambled to provide support services to students who need them, but were deemed ineligible because we did not have standardized test scores due to their “opting out.”

Parents and educators must continue to put pressure on their legislators in Albany to abandon the current standardized testing “road to nowhere” and support the letter writing campaigns being promulgated by groups such as the New York Suburban Consortium for Public Education. Teacher evaluations tied to the performance of students on standardized tests, in their current form, must be halted by Governor Cuomo now.

In our discussion last week, our Board of Education and community made it clear that the results of student performance on standardized tests must be but one piece of information used by teachers for formative assessment purposes.

In Dobbs Ferry, it is important to remember that student success is ultimately measured by the number of pupils who successfully access the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in High School and exemplify the Learner Profile skills. These figures have increased dramatically in recent years and our IB Middle Years Program (MYP) will further impact this important measure. Our students successfully gain admission to the finest colleges and universities in the nation. Our graduates are among the most successful anywhere.

Let’s find our own way to “swim against the tide.” Support our schools, our teachers, and our students by “opting in” to the NY State tests this year.