get out and play

A parent, like others before her, is pushing for cold-weather play

A child at play
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
A child at play. Photo by ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/admiretime/##admiretime##, via Flickr

An Upper West Side mom and education researcher is arguing that her son and his classmates need an active, outdoor recess — even when it’s very cold outside.

Anne Feighery said she noticed that her second-grade son was coming home grumpy every day from PS 166 this winter. Feighery, who is an education researcher and doctoral fellow at Columbia University’s Teachers College, told me she identified the reason for her son’s bad mood when she realized that he hadn’t been outside to play in days because PS 166 keeps students indoors for recess when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Feighery said the indoor recess PS 166 offered instead was inadequate to meet children’s needs. During a 6-week span when he didn’t go outside this winter, her 8-year-old son got hurt during indoor playtime as his fellow students’ pent-up energy turned indoor games violent, she said.

“We began talking about it with other friends who have children in other schools and a lot of people have this problem—it wasn’t unique to us,” Feighery said. (The debate is definitely not new: A Yonkers teacher complained in the New York Times in 2003 of “a new layer of fat” parents might find hanging off their children each spring due to skipped winter recesses.)

So she wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein that she posted on her blog, asking that the Department of Education exercise greater oversight on schools’ recess, and she launched a Facebook group to lobby for changes.

“Right now because it’s left up to each school, days and days go by and no one’s keeping track of it, there’s no accountability,” Feighery said. Individual principals decide when the weather is too cold for recess, a DOE spokesman confirmed.

Feighery told me recess is a “far-reaching” practice that can cut down on childhood obesity, help children learn through play, and improve student behavior. But schools face the challenge of fitting in time for recess in an already packed schedule. In the winter, they must also consider safety concerns about icy play areas and some parents’ worries that playing outside in the cold will make their children sick. 

A recent study we wrote about before by the Alliance for Childhood reports that unstructured play in kindergarten makes for better-balanced adults who do not lag behind their more structured peers academically even though they spent less time studying in kindergarten. And New York State’s Healthy Schools Act, passed in 2007, requires schools to provide students in 8th grade and under with a recess period of up to 30 minutes a day when there is no physical education class.

A DOE spokesman declined to comment on the DOE’s position on recess, but back in February, commenting on a 2008 study by then-Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión’s office that found that about 90 percent of Bronx public schools don’t comply with the state’s physical activity requirement, a DOE spokeswoman said the department was working to improve physical education offerings.

“We share Borough President Carrión’s concerns, and that’s why we have worked hard over the past five years to improve physical education in New York City schools and give more students access to high quality programs,” DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg wrote to a Bronx community newspaper at the time.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.