Category Archives: education

White House not happy with school lunch ads starring Obama girls

There were 14 ad banners at Washington D.C.’s Union Station on August 4 that the White House wanted to disappear. A young girl is featured asking, “President Obama’s daughters get healthy school lunches. Why don’t I?”
The White House may want the ads gone but they are within the right of free speech. While the administration has said that using the daughters of President Obama infringes on their private life, the ads only ask a legitimate question. ABC Blogs reports:

“We’ve been very clear I think from even before the administration started that their two girls would have a very private life, and we want to protect that private life and their privacy,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning when asked about the PCRM posters. “And we hope that others will be respectful, as many in the media have been, about not using the girls as a publicity stunt.”

No one though is speaking on behalf of the eight-year-old Jasmine Messiah of Miami-Dade who is featured in the ad asking a very real question of the government. Why do some children reap the benefits that all children deserve? The ads are from the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) who are lobbying for healthy lunch programs within the nation’s school systems. CBS Blogs reports:

“The contrast is not with the daughters,” Dr. Neal Barnard says of the controversial poster, pointing out that Sasha and Malia’s names and pictures are not in the ad. “The contrast is with the school the president’s daughters are able to patronize. Sidwell Friends is able to offer health nutritious meal options.” Veggie burgers are offered alongside hamburgers, vegetarian chili is served next to meat chili with higher cholesterol, he says. “Go a mile away to any school in the district” and what options are there to a bologna-and-cheese sandwich? he asks. “What’s left? Nothing. Nothing at all.”

Little Jasmine brings her own lunch to school by the way in order to have fruits and vegetables. MSNBC quotes the young girl:

“Sometimes I bring in broccoli and carrots and my friends are like, ‘Ewww, this is disgusting,’ ” she told The Miami Herald. “But I think if they tried it more, they’d like it.”

Jasmine is wise. The United States is dealing with a nation of children that have unhealthy diets. At this point one in three will deal at some point in their lives with diabetes. Changing the diets of children in the school could lead to a healthier nation. The campaign by PCRM points out the fact that the average school is pushed to serve high-fat, high-cholesterol foods. This is in spite of the knowledge that a low fat, vegetarian diet helps prevent obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The federal child nutrition legislation does not have provisions in place to support vegetarian meals in schools. News 8 reports that the ads will remain in place at Union Station until August 31.

Computers are becoming the standard text book

Millions of trees could be sighing a breath of relief in the future as computers become the standard in schools instead of textbooks if some reports are correct. Still those mighty oaks will have to wait a while before they are in the clear.
Not everyone is in favor of textbooks going the way of the dinosaur but it does make ecological sense. Textbooks are quickly outdated while computers are updated within minutes. Still it depends on what level of education to understand the near future trends when it comes to textbooks vs. computers. It may be many years before the companies that make those heavy textbooks delve into a world without pages to turn. In college those tomes are a money maker. Students generally spend over $1,000 a year for their books. As professors demand the latest editions the used books are worthless for the next year’s students. Delaware Online reports:

“It’s safe to say that paper, printed texts continue to be the bulk of the demand,” said Elio DiStaola, spokesman for the Follett Higher Education Group, which manages 800 bookstores in North America, including those at Delaware State University and St. Mark’s High School. “But we’re seeing more of those texts available in the electronic format. Our bookstores are preparing for that shift to accelerate. We have to assume that it will.”

There are about 4,500 college stores in the United States that survive because of those heavy tomes. With average sales hovering around $3 million the owners are unlikely to push for computers being the new textbooks. Computer teaching has a more self-study approach than standard textbooks approach. Information on the computer is grasped in a different way than when it is obtained by reading a book. It’s hard to write in the margins of a computer after all. While higher learning institutions don’t see the textbook being replaced by computers United States school systems may be nudging towards that day. A report in The New York Times shows that many school districts are providing their students with computers for lessons and homework assignments. Some teachers see the day when the computer is the textbook.

“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite. “They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”

In California some science and math texts are being replaced with open source digital versions. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes that this initiative could save hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The computer is not a reliable text tool though unless every student is equip with not only their own device but also with Internet access.

“A large portion of our kids don’t have computers at home, and it would be way too costly to print out the digital textbooks,” said Tim Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction in California’s 24,000-student Chaffey Joint Union High School District, where almost half the students are from low-income families.

The fairly near future though may see kids toting their computer bags instead of backpacks jammed full of books weighing half of what they do. The future student may not understand how their parents sat in a class listening to a teacher lecture and then going home to read chapters at a time. They are liable to ask, “But what program did you use to store the information in so that you could use it later Mom?”

Study shows both genders at risk for violence at university

A study led by Elizabeth Saewyc from the University of British Columbia found that nearly one in five students in university experience physical or emotional violence, often the result of alcohol.
The study was published in the June issue of Journal of Adolescent Health. The research found that 17 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women had reported some form of violence in the past six months while at university. The University of British Columbia reports:

“Whether it’s from intimate partners or relative strangers, violence has a significant effect on young people’s health,” says Saewyc, a professor in the School of Nursing and lead author of the study. “At university, the stress from experiencing violence can affect students’ grades, their mental health, even their long-term physical health. When nearly one in five young people report recent violence, that’s a serious concern for campus health services.”

Both genders reported that intimate partners were the aggressors in almost half of the emotional abuse and 20 per cent of the physical abuses. At the university level both genders are equal when it comes to being the victim of violence. Saewyc worked with researchers at the University of Wisconsin and University of Washington in Seattle to survey more than 2,000 students for the study. The findings found that alcohol can increase the incidents of violence. One in three women and 59 per cent of the men had consumed alcohol at the time of being victimized. The results of the study could lead to new guidelines for men in university.

“There are established guidelines that recommend screening women for intimate partner violence in routine clinical care on campus, but not for men. This study shows we need the same routine screening for young men, too,” says Saewyc.


LA School Superintendent Upset With GQ’s Bruno Photo Shoot

Sacha Baron Cohen is getting some harsh words after a photo shoot at a local Los Angeles high school was described as pornography. The school and its football players posed for the magazine in what is being called “soft porn.”
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines is not happy with the recent GQ spread featuring Birmingham High School.

Cohen was dressed as his gay character “Bruno” for what GQ is calling its comedy issue. The shoot which Cortines says that the district allowed local students to be “used” features Cohen as Bruno wearing just shoulder pads, tight red shorts, an athletic cup and the football team of Birmingham High School.

Eyewitness News reports that Cortines has bigger issues though than the photo spread. The Los Angeles school district is dealing with huge budget cuts and layoffs.

ABC Local reports:

“The school board should concentrate on other things, like trying to keep their schools running correctly, without worrying about little problems like this,” said Mickey Schechter, Malibu Lake resident.

The GQ issue features Cohen on the cover. The Cohen interview was given in character, presenting a serious conversation with a decidedly Bruno twist. One area covered is style tips by Bruno for those on a budget as Softpedia reports:

“Times are hard, but if you shop around und are prepared to vear some things twice before throwing zem avay, it is still possible to look good on a clothing budget of about $20,000 a veek. Ich mean, obwiously you vill need a bit more zan zat if you are planning on leaving ze house.”


Ontario May Close 146 Schools in The Next 2 Years

Across Ontario 146 schools may lock their doors for good over the next two years. Those closings would effect more than 150,000 students according to a report by People for Education.
Low enrollment is the force before the proposed school closings. In the larger cities students get still be close to another school but in rural areas those closings could have a devastating impact and not just for the children.

The Globe and Mail reports:

“It can become an accelerating issue, where a small town loses people and services and if it loses its schools, fewer families want to move there,” said Annie Kidder.

“Do we say to a small town, ‘No, sorry, it’s just too expensive?”’

School enrollments have decreased since 2002 by 14 per cent.

In 2008 16 schools were closed. This will be the last year for another 34 schools slated to be closed.

The closing of a school often means another school will be getting more programs. The smallest schools do not have the funding that they need to have extra programs. This is a difficult issue for school boards.

Some northern Ontario schools have to deal with so little funding that science departments haven’t enough. Some areas are eliminating middle schools sending their Grade 7 students straight into a high school environment or putting the students back into a elementary school setting.

According to the report by People for Education 145 schools in Ontario are undergoing Accommodation reviews.

The most northern schools in Ontario have the smallest school populations. The optimal school size according to researchers is between 600 to 700 students in secondary schools and under 400 in primary schools. While schools with larger populations appear on paper to have more success by economical standards research has shown that graduation rates are higher when school populations are smaller. Students are also more engaged and tend to participate in activities more often at the smaller sized schools.

People for Education is an independent parent-led organization. The group researches and provides information about Ontario schools to the public. In a phone interview with Executive Director Annie Kidder Digital Journal asked about the group’s concerns.

“The school closings have an effect across the board. We need to think about the total community that is effected. The Providence understands that there is an issue. They are doing a lot of talking about it. They understand the importance that schools should act as their community’s hub.”

The largest number of school closings are in the rural areas of the province. The closings are affecting both the elementary and secondary schools in Ontario.


Toronto Program Helps Poor Students With Educational Obstacles

The Models Schools for Inner Cities program has helped bridge community and several elementary schools in Toronto. The program is a grassroots effort to even the playing field in some of the city’s poorer areas.
The grassroots program, Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC), has helped children with not only educational goals but by providing some basic health needs. Children in the schools that are in the program last year had vision and hearing tests for their students. The results were profound. Some of the children could not see the blackboard, some could not hear their teachers. The program not only tested but then helped parents obtain corrective surgeries, glasses and hearing aids for their children. The program is funded through The Sprott Asset Management Gift of Sight and Sound program in partnership with the Toronto Foundation for Student Success, Wal-Mart Canada and The Canadian Hearing Society. this program will carry over to 50 inner city schools again in September.

The program has shown that it works but it also faces an uphill battle as funding can be hard to obtain. It is asking for $8.5 million to be dedicated in the TDSB budget to maintain the Model Schools for Inner Cities program, $1.0 million be added to the MSIC budget to allow the support of up to 24 model middle schools and $2.5 million be added to expand the program to serve up to 30 secondary schools.

Seven schools in Toronto’s inner city are model schools, Firgrove, Nelson Mandela Park PS, Willow Park, Forest Manor, George Webster, Kingsview Village Jr. and Bala Avenue Community School. These schools all have one common thread, students who live in poverty attend.

As the Toronto School Board site states:

“This is our collective effort as communities, as a Board and as individuals to level the playing field for all our children,” said Sheila Cary-Meagher, TDSB Trustee for Ward 16 and Chair of the Model Schools for Inner Cities Task Force. “By working together with students, families, schools and the community, we can make a real difference in the lives of our children in poverty.”

The program started in November 2006 providing stability and a safe haven for the students. By developing partnerships with higher education institutions the education of the students have been able to provide support for the students. Every teacher has a teacher candidate from York University at one of the schools. One of the programs is a Saturday arts program with art and music.

Children are given snacks and lunches helping families even more.

Parent Michael Corniffe whose daughter attends Forest Manor feels his involvement is important. “Getting involved in this type of program is fantastic. It’s really beneficial to the kids in the school and in the community. The school is very dedicated to its parents.”

The program is not just for the students but their parents as well. There are monthly parent workshops. This month the program explores School Profiles and Principal/VP role in parent engagement at the school level.

One school in the program is George Webster ES. Principle Nancy Steinhauer discussed the benefits of being a model school: “The program has definitely helped my school. We have parental involvement and more community agencies now as a result of the program. Today some of the student are in fact out with community support workers getting glasses as part of the vision testing.”

The funding that the program provides really does level the playing field for Steinhauer’s students. The classes have all had opportunities to go on three field trips this year that are relevant to their curriculum. In a school that has a high poverty population getting funding for these types of events is rare. Fund raisers can only bring in what the community can afford, without the funding from the school board for Model Schools the children would not be getting as many of these precious memories.

The children are feeling safer in their school in just two years. 71 per cent of the students have said that they like going to school compared to 61% before the program. School spirit is at 80% now.

Parents have the resource of after school programs for their children at George Webster. 51% of the children no longer go straight home from school now, instead they are involved in safe and educational after school programing that doesn’t end until 6:15 p.m. each evening. In an area where there isn’t a close community center that’s a godsend.

This summer the children of the school will have a preschool program. By teaching skills earlier the kids will be able to thrive when they enter school. That fits in with the school’s goals of being a heart of the community. Steinhauer wants her parents to feel safe and welcome at her school.

Academically it’s early in the stages as to how much of an improvement there has been. The testing though is showing some very positive results. Before the program reading tests showed students below grade level. That has changed — this year the kids were on grade level or above at the start of the year.

Perhaps the most positive sign though is the lack of school suspensions this year. Not one children has had to be disciplined in that way.

Parents also are more involved with their children’s education at George Webster. Whether it is reading to their children from books in their first language or attending parent meetings the involvement has increased.

Last week Digital Journal talked with Cassie Bell, Inner City Project Coordinator. At that time she stressed how important the funding is for this program. Each year ICAC has to fight hard for the next year’s funding budget. The program has to as Ms. Bell says “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

“At what part do we stop yakking and get to work.”

It’s a positive program that is working for the schools involved. Hopefully funding will continue and the program will grow. Each school in Toronto deserves to be a model school, each student deserves the very best education that the community can provide.

A video of the program is located here.


University Requires Students To Buy iPhones

Columbia University is requiring their new freshman have an iPhone when they start the MU School of Journalism this year. Letters were sent to the incoming class telling them to show up at campus this fall with their iPod touch or an iPhone.
The associate dean of the Journalism Brian Brooks said that the device is going to be turned into a learning device.

The Columbia Missourian reports:

“Lectures are the worst possible learning format,” Brooks said. “There’s been some research done that shows if a student can hear that lecture a second time, they retain three times as much of that lecture.”

The reason for the item to be on the required list is for the students on financial aid. If an item is on the required list a student can list it in their financial need estimate.

Students who can’t afford an iPhone won’t be penalized for showing up without the Apple product.

Not all of the students are happy with the requirement. Elizabeth Eberlin has started the Facebook group, “Rotten Apple” to let her anger out.

“I really like my Apple computer, but I don’t think people should be forced to buy one brand of computer or one brand of anything,” she said. The Facebook group’s description calls into question the School of Journalism’s relationship with Apple, citing a possible conflict of interest.

Lectures will be recorded for all students. The school is installing Tegrity that records the professors lecturing. Lectures can then be downed through iTunes U which is a free content download hosted by universities.

At the end of the year MU will evaluate if the program was successful. That evaluation will determine if it will be offered for students in 2012.


Toronto Student Wins NASA Contest, First for Canada

ric Yam, a student at Toronto’s Northern Secondary School has won the grand prize in a NASA Space Settlement Competition beating out more than 300 students across the globe.

Yam is the first Canadian in the 16 years that the NASA contest has run to take home the prize. His version of a Utopia tied with a team from Orissa, India.

The design that Yam came up with resembles a cylinder and could house 10,000 people and support 300 tourist in the world 2050.

Named after the Egyptian goth Thoth, Asten’s hotel would include a panoramic outer gallery with transparent walls for watching the earth, moon and stars.

The Toronto Star reports:

“The most challenging part was to combine all the different aspects – the technology that would work in space combined with a social design, a government system and life-support systems,” Yam said yesterday.

“He basically built a Utopia from scratch,” said math and physics teacher Gillian Evans, staff advisor on the project.

Yam also competed with a team from his school at the WindEng competition at the University of Guelph in April. The ‘Whale Warriors’ placed 14th among the 40 teams with their design of a 6-blade turbine.


School Wins-California Supreme Court Sexual Discrimination Case

The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of a school that expelled two students because they were having a lesbian relationship.
The state’s highest court ruled in favor of California Lutheran High School‘s right to expel the young teenagers. The school according to the court was within their right to exclude students based on their sexual orientation because it is a private, religious organization.

The private school is a Christian institution that teaches its students the ‘unchanging will of God.’

The girls had sued the Riverside County school in 2005 using the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The Court’s ruling could open the doors for private schools to discriminate against students on any basis including sex and religion.

This goes against the California Safe School Coalition for public schools which states California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in California public schools.

Had the school been considered a business opened to the public their expelling students based on sexual orientation would be considered discrimination. That was the angle that the lawyers for the two female students suing the school went for.

In January the California’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the school was not a business.

Both girls are now attending college.


Songwriters Workshop SongStudio Coming To Toronto In July

In July a week-long workshop for songwriters will take place in Toronto. SongStudio is the creation of Rik Emmett and Blair Packham two of Toronto’s best songwriters.
During the week students will be spending one-on-one time with faculty and having the chance to meet with some of the industry’s top names. The event will be held on the campus of Ryerson University. The workshop is for anyone who wishes to improve their songs and is for songwriters of all levels.

Blair Packham is the program director. He is in charge of designing and implementing content of the workshop. Packham has been writing songs since he was 17. He was part of Toronto’s The Jitters and recorded two albums for Capitol-EMI Music of Canada with the band. Since that time Packham has spent his time in the industry working behind the scenes with themes and scores for broadcasters such as TSN, Global Television, Discovery Channel, CBC Newsworld, TVO, CTV and others.

Since the 1990’s Packham has been involved with the Songwriters Association of Canada. An advocate for the rights and privileges of songwriters Packham has worked to foster more education for songwriters. He currently teaches songwriting at Humber College and Seneca College. He is also a co-host for the weekly Toronto music radio show ‘Rock Talk.’

Emmett and Packham have been running the event since 2005. Some of the alumni have gone on to release their own recordings, perform and tour. One special stand out is Justin Nozuka who was a nominee for Best New Artist at the 2007 Juno Awards.

The cost for the week is $750.

I had the opportunity to interview Blair about the workshop.

KJ: Why did you want to do SongStudio in the beginning?

Blair: Rik Emmett was teaching courses in the music business industry at Humber in 2005 and the facility approached him about doing a summer program. He asked me to work on it. It has run for the past four summers but the school wasn’t making money at it. This summer with the school’s blessing we’re running it ourselves as an independent program.

KJ:How many students are you planning on having this year?

Blair: We’re hoping to have roughly 50 students. That has been in the number range the past years. With 50 to 55 students we have the staff. If we get more students we will increase the staff and have to get more classroom space from Ryerson. Spots are open until the day before but after June 1 the cost does increase to $850. We’re expecting many returns. One of those who has been in the workshop for years saw me last night and said “I just go to hang out with so many friends and talented people.” And that is how we feel also, many of those who have been in the workshop in the past are now friends.

Even in spite of the economy the workshop is the deal of the century. The amount of talent that students have a chance to be with is just incredible.

KJ: Have you had a ‘wow’ moment during past workshops?

Blair: Oh my goodness! Over and over! One is when Justin Nozuka first attended the first year. We just were wowed by his voice and musical ability. His songwriting was okay but needed some work. The wow effect was even stronger though when he came back to visit and performed. He was and is just amazing.

Another wow moment was with a student named Christian Caldeira. He has an incredible voice. I haven’t seen him since but he was definitely a wow moment.

KJ: With everything that you are involved with how do you find the time to plan out the workshops?

Blair: We have a rough template of how the workshop will be. The first year was the most difficult because there was no template in place. But it is very time consuming. It’s hard for me to even find time to talk on the phone or watch TV. What’s the hardest for me is the lack of time to compose songs. That really hits me when I play a gig. I have though managed to steal some time and have written three new songs. I find that I have to steal time to do everything.

KJ: What is your advice to budding songwriters?

Blair: There is only one right reason to be a songwriter and that is because you love it. An artist is asked to do music they don’t like or write something they don’t want.

You need to remember why you write. It’s an act of communication not just for yourself but also for your audience. They are who come to hear you play, hopefully. You want to be able to connect your feelings to them. Simple things to remember are not to make your songs too long and have a memorable melody. But the most important is to remember that communication factor. You want people to listen so you have to give your audience a song that they can feel and connect with. Your song has to be responsive and be interesting.