School Bells

Dear Reader,

It is time once again for my column on books for holiday giving. In our frantic race from now until the end of the year, it’s all too easy to overlook the reasons for the seasons that are celebrated by the wondrously diverse groups here in our valley. With the short days and the long nights, we feel the pull of our internal clocks and our ursine tendencies to eat lots, to huddle inside and to hibernate.

We also look back and give thanks for another year — for the loved ones in our lives, for our accomplishments, for the lessons we’ve learned. And while there may be a gifting frenzy in our future, it is my hope that you will join me in giving gifts from your heart — books — to those on your list. Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland,” called stories “love gifts.”

From the youngest to the oldest, I can promise you that there will be no duplicate gifting with books. Your love gift will be received with thanks for the care with which it was chosen. Those of you, who buy books for children, be sure that you include the gift of your time with each book. Whether your time is spent reading aloud to the very young, reading along with new readers or if your time is spent listening and discussing books with older kids, your undivided time and attention spent with a child and a book are — as they say in the credit card commercial — PRICELESS! Your time is the real gift. To start you thinking about “love gifts” this season, here are a few priceless titles.

? “Merry Christmas, Mouse!” by Laura Numeroff. (pre-school) Remember Mouse from “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”? Join him in the festivities as he decorates his Christmas tree in a holiday counting adventure.

? “The Crow-Girl: The Children of Crow Cove” by Bodil Bredsdorff. (grades 3-7) Crow-Girl lives happily with her grandmother in a cove far from any neighbors. When the old woman dies, Crow-Girl buries her and leaves to make her way in the world. Taken in by a greedy woman who demands her labor and steals her belongings, Crow-Girl eventually escapes and finds new friends with troubles and talents of their own. Together they create a community of friends and family in the cove that was Crow-Girl’s original home. There’s a fairy-tale quality about this well-written story. There is also unflinching realism not only about the grandmother’s death and burial but also about the cruelty, greed, violence, pain and sadness that the child finds when she ventures beyond the shelter of her home. Still, young readers will be comforted when Crow-Girl survives the loss of the only person who loves her and goes on to create her own family from those whom she befriends and grows to love.

? “The Land of Green Ginger” by Noel Langley. (grades 2-6) This well-known and well-loved fantasy adventure was written by Noel Langley, the screenwriter for “The Wizard of Oz.” It is the story of Prince Abu Ali, the son of the Emperor Aladdin of China. When Abu Ali is born, the Genie of the Lamp announces that his destiny has already been foretold; he was the one chosen to break the spell of the Land of Green Ginger and restore the Magician — turned into a Button-Nosed Tortoise by a spell that went wrong — to his normal shape. You’ll find magical fantasy, adventure and excitement within the pages of this book — but most of all, you’ll find ridiculous wit and humor to appeal to all age groups.

? “The Story of Holly and Ivy” by Rumer Godden. (K-6) I first read this book the year that my daughter had scarlet fever. She lay still while I read aloud Godden’s beautiful words. Longer and more complex than most picture books, it has always been an important story for the two of us.

School Bells

Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, we have had mixed reports of schools and districts showing improvement and some still struggling or failing. Despite the repeated reform efforts, some schools still are not much better than many years before.

Turning around a deeply failing school can be a complex process.

First of all, failing schools judged by the No Child Left Behind criteria and society’s label of “bad schools” have much in common: low academic expectations, high dropout rates, lack of discipline, low test scores, inadequate facilities, a demoralized staff, a lack of parent interest and support, along with inadequate funding, equals failure.

Researchers state that demographics such as a low-income area, poor home environment and high stress conditions provide greater challenges for these area school systems. Also, insufficient resources contribute to a lack of materials and experienced teachers, a high rate of faculty turnover and teachers working in noncertified positions, thereby adding to the problem.

A third identified weakness for failing schools is ineffective school practices. This involves uncoordinated curricula, poor instructional strategies, a lack of professional development and poor leadership, which become determining factors that keep schools from showing improvement.

The No Child Left Behind Act prescribes a variety of interventions when schools do fail. Some are low key, such as developing master plans to improve weak areas and providing technical assistance. Stronger measures include removing the principal and staff members, or having a state “takeover” of a local school district.

Takeovers alone do not necessarily mean immediate success. The new managers and staff are still faced with the same problems. There is no magic button. The many variables of staff, low achieving students, transient families, parents with a lack of parenting skills, and outside pressures of society, make the task seemingly impossible.

We have seen many documentaries, read stories and viewed television reports where even in the worst districts, gains have been made. Dedication and determination of those involved become the deciding factors.

However, a Washington School Research Center study identified six primary factors in higher achieving schools that when applied to lower achieving schools create significant gains. Those practices are:

1. High energy, hands-on principal leadership that keeps the school focused on instruction.

2. Broad-based planning that sets clear instructional priorities and meaningful benchmarks for improvement.

3. Focused research-based professional development that is driven by identified instructional needs.

4. Continual monitoring and assessment.

5. Flexible grouping for instruction based on identified student needs.

6. Immediate intervention for struggling students.

We can see some of these suggestions are easier to do than others. Some take increased funding, some need schedule modifications, and some need community involvement, but all need the team approach of principal, parents, students and staff.

Although this may not provide a total success in every area, it offers goals and hope to continue to try to save our children. Many of our area schools have shown continued improvement in meeting the standards set by the state.

However, we can never get complacent or rest on our laurels because new challenges always appear.

“Hats off” to all our dedicated principals and teachers, and boards of education, who do not always work under ideal conditions, and have a difficult time providing all the needs with limited funding.

Roger Warren is a retired teacher, counselor and principal from Ohio County schools, and also is retired from St. Clairsville-Richland City School District, where he was an administrator. He was principal of Madison Elementary on Wheeling Island for 16 years, and was an adjunct professor of education for West Liberty State College.

School Bells

Sleep is very important to me. Even though I rarely seem to get enough of it myself, I’m almost like a drill sergeant when it comes to my kids’ sleep schedules, especially during the school year.

It’s funny– kids always seem to want to push the envelope when it comes to bedtime. “Pleee-aase, just 10 more minutes!” is a plea I’m certain many parents hear regularly, like I do. Yet, staying up late is exactly the opposite of what children and teens’ developing bodies and minds need.

Insufficient sleep can show up in different ways depending on the age of the child. Signs may include difficulty waking in the morning, yawning throughout the day, irritability late in the day, meltdowns, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, falling asleep spontaneously during quiet times of the day and sleeping for extra long periods on the weekends. In addition, sleepiness can also look similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

So, how much sleep do kids need? Research suggests that most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Children and adolescents need even more sleep than adults. The National Sleep Foundation suggests the following sleep guidelines for children and adolescents:

? 12-18 months — 13 to 15 hours

? 18 months–3 years — 12 to 14 hours

? 3-5 years — 11 to 13 hours

? 5-12 years — 9 to 11 hours

? Teens — 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours

When we parents give in to the pleading and allow our children to stay up late, we deprive them of the adequate amount of sleep their growing bodies need. While our children may think we’re doing them a favor by letting them stay up late, we, in fact, are doing the reverse.

Sleep helps to restore and rejuvenate many body functions. Growth hormones are released during sleep, and sleep is essential to proper physical and mental development. In addition, without adequate sleep, the immune system becomes weak, and the body becomes more vulnerable to infection and disease.

Not surprisingly, sleep also seems to affect the way our brains function. According to Dr. Tina de Benedictis, author of “Getting the Sleep You Need,” sleep seems to organize memories, as well as help you to recover memories. After you learn something new, sleep may solidify the learning in your brain.

Sleep-deprived children do not perform as well in school as children who do get enough sleep. Moreover, the parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making and social interactions slow down dramatically during sleep, allowing for optimal performance when awake. This helps explain why tired people are often cranky and easily frustrated.

Experts strongly encourage parents to establish a bedtime routine with their children (and teens!) and to stick to it. The need for a regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine is key to helping your children get enough sleep. Regular schedules provide a framework that gives order to a child’s world; sameness and repetition provide predictability and structure. The consistent nightly rituals are soothing and take the battle out of bedtime. While my daughter still asks for “10 more minutes,” bedtime is by no means a battle in our house. The kids know that we do not stray from the routine, and they are at the age now that they can understand the importance of sleep to help them function at their best.

When establishing your own routine, it is important to have a quiet time leading up to bedtime, such as taking a warm bath and reading bedtime stories, or chapter books with older children. These kinds of calming activities enable the child’s body and mind to relax and get ready to sleep. Their bedrooms should be dark, cool and quiet.

Children should also avoid caffeine, and televisions and computers should be off and preferably out of the room because they arouse children’s senses and needlessly keep them awake longer than necessary.

Sleep is one of our most basic needs. Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs model in the 1940s and ’50s, and his theory remains valid today for understanding human motivation and personal development. In a nutshell, his theory is that people cannot reach their potential for achievement and personal growth if their most basic physiological needs are not met.

As parents, we are responsible for meeting our children’s most basic needs, such as food, shelter and sleep, as well as their safety and belongingness needs. When these basic needs are met, we help our children develop positive self-esteem and confidence and enable them to fulfill their own unique potential.

Think of sleep as you would food and water in terms of what your child needs to thrive. And, as you’re heaping on more broccoli and blueberries, don’t forget an extra hour or two of sleep.

Kathy Shapell has a master’s degree in special education. She is the director of the Augusta Levy Learning Center for autistic children in Wheeling and the mother of two children.