By Andrew Pillow
How often have you seen the “food pyramid”? Probably your whole life. You’ve seen it in school. You’ve seen it at doctor’s offices. You’ve seen it on cereal boxes. The food pyramid has become almost ubiquitous in our daily lives.
For as long as most of us can remember, the food pyramid has guided traditional wisdom about meal choices. If you are like me, you can remember the general idea by heart: You should eat mostly grains, followed by vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy, and fats, in that order.
Would it surprise you to learn that the food pyramid was inaccurate? Because it is.
Here’s the truth: The food pyramid is a USDA marketing tool that completely ignores the advice given to them by their own nutritional experts in order to encourage people to eat more refined grains and meat… all of which, are coincidently subsidized by the USDA.
This isn’t some conspiracy theory or anything either. It is a well-documented fact. The USDA had nutritional experts craft a food pyramid. The original version that they came back with featured fruits and vegetables as the biggest and most important food groups. That version was overturned and edited into the final product that we are all familiar with today.
"When our version of the Food Guide came back to us revised, we were shocked to find that it was vastly different from the one we had developed. As I later discovered, the wholesale changes made to the guide by the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture were calculated to win the acceptance of the food industry. For instance, the Ag Secretary’s office altered wording to emphasize processed foods over fresh and whole foods, to downplay lean meats and low-fat dairy choices because the meat and milk lobbies believed it’d hurt sales of full-fat products; it also hugely increased the servings of wheat and other grains to make the wheat growers happy...”
Grains, particularly refined ones, are not necessarily healthy. Especially not in the quantities that the food pyramid encourages you to eat them.
So, if the food pyramid is problematic and we know it, why do I still see it in lunchrooms all across the country? Why do they still put it in publications meant for children? And why do teachers continue to show and teach it to students in school?
The USDA has revised the food pyramid once before in 2005. They scrapped the pyramid all together in 2011 in favor of the MyPlate design. Both designs were improvements, but still problematic. Still, neither of these revisions have trickled down to the schools. Worse still, you can still find lesson plans based on the original flawed pyramid.
This is hardly surprising. Half the textbooks in my class have not fully accounted for the fall of the Soviet Union. However, it falls upon us as teachers to give students accurate information. Especially when it comes to their health.
I am challenging you to teach your kids the correct foods to eat in spite of years of inaccurate and misleading information. The appropriate information is out there. Don’t depend on the USDA or any other entity with an agenda to teach our students accurate information about their health.
Aggregated by Andrew Pillow
'A historian explores the dark side of metric-based performance evaluation (blogs.sciencemag.org)
The first Saturday in February is Take Your Child to the Library Day (TYCLD). TYCLD is an international initiative that began in Connecticut by two librarians Nadine Lipman and Caitlin Augusta and artist Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. If you missed going to the library on the first Saturday of February, no worries. According to the TYCLD website, “TYCLD is flexible and customizable - celebrations may take place on any date(s) in February that suit your library, your community, and your goals.” These women created this initiative to encourage families to take their children to their local library and utilize their programming and services.
Below are some ways my family has utilized The Indianapolis Public Library.
My First Library Card
Did you know your child could have a library card before he or she turns one? After my twins sons’ first birthday, we got them the My First Library Card. This card is for children 0-6. Your child can check out up to 25 books and there are no fines. Around your child’s 6th birthday, he or she will receive a Happy Birthday card in the mail about obtaining a regular library card.
Bunny Book Bags
The Bunny Book Bags are bags of 20 books for children. No two bags are alike. There are also Baby Bunny Book Bags with board books for babies. Parents can check these bags out on their library card. I checked out two. These bags came in handy when I didn’t want to go out into the world with twin toddlers.
Download and Stream for Kids
On the days you can’t get out to the library, you can stream and download books online using your library card. Your library card number is your username for the services and the last four numbers of your library card is your pin. If you don’t have a library card yet or have misplaced it, your children can still access the three resources below online for free.
Although we live in Washington Township, we live closer to the Pike Library which is next to Pike High School. Whenever, I’m there with my boys, students are studying at tables or completing work on the computer. The library is a great place for children to complete homework minus the distractions they may come across at home.
Each branch of IMCPL has an event calendar. The calendars include events for children, adults, and families. We have went to the library a few times to watch movies with other families and since our boys love animals, we have attended the Animalia events a few times.
This is just a snapshot of all the wonderful resources The Indianapolis Public Library has to offer. Make a point to take your children to different libraries across the city. So far, my children and I have visited six: Pike, Nora, Eagle, Wayne, InfoZone and Central, but there are so many more across the city. Go check them out!
Written By Sylvia Denice
When my students arrived in August and I started seeking extra opportunities for community-building, “Lunch Bunch” became our norm. We shared films together in the classroom over lunch, watching 20-minute segments per day. Before and after our viewings, we would discuss what we had watched or were preparing to watch. We have enjoyed a variety of films, ranging from the powerful Bully documentary to the comical Diary of a Wimpy Kid to the vibrant Moana.
I noticed students beginning to feel a sense of belonging, ownership, and loyalty within their classroom community after several Lunch Bunch meetings. Lunch Bunch became the highlight of each day, as students eagerly lined up with their trays to return to the classroom for a movie and discussion. Students started bringing in film suggestions, enthusiastic about the shared movies and meals with their classmates.
We took a break from Lunch Bunch after I noticed students making great strides in cooperation and problem-solving as a class. They were ready to bring learned lessons into the cafeteria with their fourth-grade peers from other classes. Recently, I have been sporadically receiving questions from students asking about Lunch Bunch: “Hey! Remember when we used to do Lunch Bunch? Can we do that again?” When a student came to me suggesting that we watch Hidden Figures, I was sold. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to bring back Lunch Bunch and launch Black History Month than with Hidden Figures, the true story of the team of African-American female mathematicians behind NASA’s U.S. Space Program in the 1960s.
I enter each Lunch Bunch with an idea of what I hope my students will take away from the experience. The beauty of Lunch Bunch, and teaching, in general, is that students bring ideas far more novel and profound than I could ever imagine. Even so, I can’t help but predict and anticipate scenes or lines from each film I hope will catch their attention. Here are three discussions I would love to facilitate during our Hidden Figures Lunch Bunch this February:
“I think we can say we are living the impossible.”
When Karl Zielinski, an aeronautical engineer character in the film, suggests to computer Mary Jackson that she pursue a career as an engineer, she initially turns away the idea. She notes this would not be a prospect for her as an African-American woman. Karl shares his background as “a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp” who is now preparing “a spaceship that’s going to carry an astronaut to the stars.” “I think we can say we are living the impossible,” he adds.
Some of my students face adversity and prejudice incomprehensible to my adult mind; and yet, they come to school faithfully with a desire to learn. Watching Mary Jackson’s character go to the courthouse to enroll in classes where African-Americans and women were unwelcome in order to earn her engineering degree and position I find incredibly inspirational. As cliche as it may sound, I am truly foolish enough to believe that nothing is impossible for my students. I hope they catch onto this idea and notion from the film. My belief in them as my students is just one piece of the puzzle. Their belief in themselves and their capacity to achieve brings their experiences to a whole new level.
“Separate and equal are two different things.”
I do not want my students to be fooled. They are familiar with the stories of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges. They express dismay, shock, and disbelief when they learn about life under Jim Crow. However, this statement from Dorothy Vaughan’s character in the film to her young sons is no less relevant today in 2018 than it was in 1961. The United States is still segregated, and opportunities are not equal. My hope is that my students are aware and equipped to demand more. They deserve it.
“Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
This famous line from John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech” resonates strongly with me as I reflect on the growth I have seen from my students since they walked through my classroom door that fateful day in August. I don’t know if you remember learning long division or embedding text evidence into your reading responses when you were in fourth grade; but, for many nine-year-olds, it is no walk in the park. I tell them incessantly that my position as their teacher would be pointless if I gave them easy material. “What would I be teaching? What would you be learning? That would make for a boring year for us all.” Nonetheless, it takes time to build up the level of trust and comfort with students for them to acknowledge that it is OK to not know sometimes. Discovery is good. The struggle is real--and acceptable.
The story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson epitomizes this sentiment that the most challenging of feats are also the most worthwhile. In addition to challenges that I present to students in reading, math, writing, science, and social studies, they face a slough of social and emotional challenges they learn to overcome in the school setting. The most difficult of these are inevitably the most rewarding. This sentiment is easy to hear and hard to accept. I love that the story of NASA’s Hidden Figures exemplifies not just facing but overcoming trying challenges.
While I may speculate where our Lunch Bunch will lead us, Lunch Bunch has historically exceeded my expectations. I come in with a “lesson plan,” and their fourth-grade minds come back with one ten times better. We are looking forward to celebrating this Black History Month as a classroom community, and I can’t wait to find out what Hidden Figures has in store for us.
My boys are in first grade this year. For each of my sons, my husband and I paid $27 for education fees, $99 for textbooks and $36 for workbooks. When you add those fees up for both our children, we paid $324 this school year. That does not include the money we spent, a little over $100, for school supplies.
Students are entitled to a free public education, but is that education really free if you have to pay for textbook and materials? It wasn’t until former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz suggested the state pick up textbook costs that I learned textbook fees are not the norm across the country. I have only ever lived in Indiana, so I thought everyone had to pay this fee. I know we pay taxes to help fund schools and I know students need materials to learn, so I didn’t think it was too much to ask for parents to pay for textbooks. Once I learned the majority of U.S. parents do not pay textbook fees, I felt a bit jaded about it and want this bill eliminated from my family’s budget.
Rep. Scott Pelath authored House Bill 1169 to provide curriculum materials without charging parents. There is a Change.org petition signed by over 6,000 people in support of this bill. This petition points out, “Private school parents and homeschoolers in Indiana can write off school supplies and textbooks when they file their taxes, but not parents of children in Indiana's public schools.” If students qualify for free and reduced lunch, their textbook fees are waived.
It is not clear if this bill will be voted on and make it out of committee during this legislative session, but this is an issue lawmakers need to seriously consider especially as many schools are moving to online curriculum and resources and some schools don’t even use all of the materials parents purchased. Last week, my son was about to toss a school-issued book inside our recycling bin. I immediately told him to stop and he said, “Mommy, my teacher said we don’t need this anymore. It’s paper so I thought I should recycle it.” Upon a closer examination, I saw that my son had completed only 54 out of 223 pages in this reading workbook, a little less than 25%. Not that I want my children completing worksheets from a workbook all day, but why have parents pay for resources that are barely used? I hope before my sons graduate from high school that legislation will be passed that eliminates textbook fees for Indiana families.
February 1, 2018 is World Read Aloud Day. This day was created by the nonprofit LitWorld in 2010. According to LitWorld’s website, “750 million adults around the world - two-thirds of them women - lack basic reading and writing skills.” This year LitWorld decided to have World Read Aloud Day coincidence with Harry Potter Book Night, a day where Harry Potter fans celebrate the Harry Potter series written by J.K. Rowling. As a literacy coach and teacher, I assert this is a much needed day.
Many schools ask parents to have their children read each night, but it is also important to read to your child and have your child read to you. Here are a few reasons why:
Listening to your child read helps you know how well your child can read.
For nine years of my career, I taught middle school English. It is crushing to watch parents come to the realization their 8th-grade child is a struggling reader after asking the child to read aloud during a parent/teacher conference. It is important to help struggling readers as soon as possible. You won’t know how well your child can read if you have never heard him or her read.
Reading aloud brings the text to life.
When I learned how to read, I had to constantly read aloud to work on some speech issues I was having. To make it fun my speech therapist would teach me how to emphasize words to bring the text to life. She even let me dress up sometimes.
Reading aloud helps reading comprehension and builds vocabulary knowledge.
The more children read, the more opportunities they have to use reading strategies they learned in school. Each text exposes them to new vocabulary. According to Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, “Reading aloud to children every day puts them almost a year ahead of children who do not receive daily read alouds regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background.”
If you aren’t reading to your children and your children aren’t reading to you, get started today. Use #WorldReadAloudDay to share on social media how you are celebrating this day.
A little over a week ago, I wrote “More Educators of Color Need to be Involved in Education Policy.” I would be a hypocrite to make this call to action and not rise to my own call. On Monday, January 29, 2018, I spent several hours at the state capitol building in hopes of delivering testimony to the House Education Committee in favor of House Bill 1421 School Discipline.
Although I had been inside of the statehouse a few times, this was the first time I had ever witnessed part of the legislative session. There were four bills on the schedule to be heard and House Education Chair Robert Behning informed us HB 1421 would be heard last. After listening to Indiana representatives debate, consider testimony and vote on the first three bills, I was hopeful when Rep. Gregory Porter, the co-author of HB 1421 with Rep. Behning, gave the synopsis of the bill. Then, JanNae Hanger President of The Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana was called first to give testimony, but after her testimony, Rep. Behning had to call a recess because there was another meeting they needed to attend. There were 28 people present to testify for HB 1421 and 27 of us, including myself, did not have the opportunity to deliver our testimony.
After sitting there for hours and not getting to speak, I was frustrated because I knew I couldn’t come back when the session resumed the following day at 8:30 a.m. Educators schedules aren’t flexible. I submitted my testimony electronically and later learned that JauNae Hanger read my testimony when the session resumed on Tuesday. Of course, I wanted to look my representatives in the eyes while delivering my testimony, but I glad they were able to hear it. Most importantly, the bill passed out of the House 8 to 5. This bill isn’t a law yet, but this is an important step forward. Below, you can read my testimony.
House Bill 1421 - School Discipline Testimony
Hello Rep. Behning. I’m here today to speak in favor of House Bill 1421, the school discipline bill. As a black educator and parent of two black boys who are first graders in our state, I am gravely concerned about the disproportionate rate of discipline and expulsion among students of color in Indiana. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing Indiana as one of eleven states with higher gaps than the nation between the suspension rates of black male and female students versus their white counterparts. Indiana was also one of five states that reported higher suspension rates for every racial/ethnic group. This is an injustice to students across the Hoosier state and it must not be ignored any longer.
Zero tolerance rules do not solve the cause of misbehavior and can affect students negatively. As a student in Indiana from K-12, I was only absent for seven days of school, two in first grade for my grandfather's funeral and five in eighth grade as a result of a suspension for defending myself in a fight initiated by a student who had bullied me the entire year. The assistant principal said to me, “Shawnta, I know you are a smart student and a good kid. I know you were defending yourself, but the school rules are clear and I have to suspend you for five days.” I lost five days of learning and my middle school perfect attendance award. When we returned to school after the suspension, that punishment did not change the other student’s behavior towards me. As a result, I kept to myself and rarely spoke to other students because I wanted to avoid receiving any other consequences.
Now, as a parent, both of my black sons have been suspended from preschool at one point in time. They entered preschool with many skills including how to read basic books. They were bored and not interested in completing work they already knew which led to outbursts. Instead of finding engaging work for them on their level or helping them learn the structure of school, they were suspended. Staying at home didn’t help them work through this issue in the classroom and it did not give their teachers an opportunity to learn how to best coach them to acclimate to the school environment.
Finally, as an educator, with nine years of experience teaching in the classroom and three years of experience coaching teachers outside of the classroom, I want to ensure not only that this bill passes, but that it passes with a definition of a positive discipline and a definition of exclusion. It is important that exclusion is not only defined as in school suspension (ISS) or out of school suspension (OSS), but that the bill also keeps the language that exclusion is also any, “involuntary transfer that removes a student from the student’s regular classroom.” As a classroom teacher, who worked in a school where we were told we had to lower our exclusion rates which only meant ISS and OSS rates, students were excluded in other ways and poor behavior did not improve. Instead of assigning a student ISS or OSS the student’s parents would be called and he or she went home early, or the student sat in the office with the school secretary or school counselor or the student was sent to another teacher’s classroom. As a teacher who was known for having good classroom management, I have had up to six additional students in my classroom at one time because they couldn’t behave in their classroom. The worst part is my colleagues who constantly sent students out never learned how to build relationships with those students to improve their behavior and the students missed instruction widening their academic gaps.
As a former student who was wronged by zero tolerance, a parent whose black sons were suspended in preschool, and as a black educator dealing with students’ discipline issues, I implore you to strongly consider the educational gaps that will continue in this state between black and white students if this bill isn’t passed and disproportionate discipline isn’t addressed appropriately in Indiana.
By Andrew Pillow
DACA has been all over the news lately. Democrats have been sparring back and forth over how to deal with DACA immigrants. Unfortunately, it appears that we will have to wait a little longer for answers.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or, DACA, is a program that allows young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents to get a temporary break from deportation. It also allows them to work, study, and get a driver’s license. People who have received DACA are known as DREAMers according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration.
If DACA was to be ended or repealed in full, as has been threatened by the Trump administration, the DREAMers could be deported.
This will have drastic effects for many people. Most notably in education. Many people have discussed the number of students impacted by the program, but one issue that hasn’t been talked about as much is the number of teachers impacted as well.
Close to 9,000 school teachers are DACA recipients. Many of these teachers are in predominantly immigrant, and high need areas. Many states like Texas have heavily leveraged DACA teachers requiring only that they renew their permit every two years.
These teachers are also in danger of being deported like the other DREAMers. No matter what your political affiliation, it’s easy to see why we can’t let this happen for a couple of reasons.
1. It’s Wrong
As discussed earlier, the DREAMers are people who were brought over illegally as children by their parents. Even if you think it’s wrong for someone to come over illegally, you have to concede their children can’t be held at fault.
Moreover, most of these children have grown up and become for all intents and purposes Americans in every sense except the legal one. Imagine having every single memory of your life take place in one country, only to be deported to another country you may have never been to - that speaks a language you may not even know.
2. It Puts Stress on Already High Need Schools
If you work at a school, then you know how destabilizing it is to lose a teacher. Imagine waking up one day to find that we lost 9,000 of them. Additionally, you would be losing them from schools that likely need them.
Many DACA teachers work in the communities they grew up in where their personal experience is useful to students and families. Plus, many are bi-lingual, which is a high need in many schools.
Contrary to popular belief these aren’t jobs that would immediately be swooped up by “real” deserving “red blooded Americans.” A guy laid off from a factory in Detroit, is not all of a sudden going to move to El Paso, Texas a become an ESL teacher. Many of these positions would go unfilled...which is to the detriment of students that are legal citizens too. Unfortunately, the “Immigrants are taking our jobs” rhetoric has obscured the truth: Immigrants are essential to the workforce and even more essential to education.
Hopefully, the Trump administration thinks better of their initial threats and realizes how valuable these first-generation Americans have become. This decision should be made on the basis of their humanity… but if it helps, they have also become essential to education and decision-makers should remember that.
By Andrew Pillow
There are few things more annoying as a teacher than the “perfect student.” That’s because obviously, nobody is actually perfect. However, there are students whose parents believe they are perfect.
These are the parents you hate calling to give a negative report because you know as soon as you tell them whatever offense their child committed you are going to get at best excuses, or at worst blamed. The parents may simply ignore what you say. Sometimes they might even flat out tell you that they believe their child over you.
I’ve seen these relationships get so bad that parents literally tell their child that they no longer have to listen to the teacher.
So, what do you do when dealing with the parent of a “perfect child?”
1. Spot the warning signs
Parents of perfect children seem to have the worst luck with teachers. (Sarcasm)
When you are talking to the parent of a student and you notice they go on rants about how awful the last teacher was… you might be dealing with a "perfect student" parent. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the last teacher the student had was actually bad. But in my experience, parents that think their child has never had a good teacher, typically believe their children do no wrong.
If you are dealing with a parent that volunteers numerous complaints about previous teachers prepare yourself and take precaution.
2. Make positive phone calls often
Many teachers don’t call home until there is a problem. While perfect parents are annoying, waiting to call home until the student does something wrong is actually poor practice.
Make sure your first contact is positive. Try and have way more positive texts and calls than negative. It’s harder for a parent to accuse you of “hating” their child if the negative phone call is sandwiched in between four good ones. There is science to this too. It’s called the 4:1 ratio. It suffices to say for every negative piece of feedback you give, you should also have four positives. We mostly use this technique with students, but it works on parents too.
It’s easy to tune out the parents of “perfect students” but that doesn’t help you solve the problem. As discussed earlier, these types of parents love to rant about what the other teachers have done. If you have a parent who does this then you should listen. Maybe even ask probing questions. Not because they are right, but because its an easy way to avoid conflict in the future.
I can’t guarantee that I will never have to make a negative phone call home. If I’m getting an earful about how Ms. Smith gave Ashley an assigned seat next to a girl she had a fight with in 5th grade, then I’m definitely going to make sure I don’t make the same mistake.
4. Join the fan club
Parents of “perfect children” love to brag about their children. Give them things to brag about. This goes beyond making positive calls about academics and behavior. Find cool and neat things that YOU appreciate about the student that parent may not have seen or noticed and share them with the parent:
“Hey Ms. Thomas, I don’t know if you know this, but I saw Ashley in music class and she’s really talented with instruments.”
“Ashley didn’t know I was watching her, but I saw her stand up for a kid who was getting bullied. I was really impressed with her character.”
Things like this go a long way. When a parent believes that you not only like their child, but think that they have the potential to be great, it becomes easier for them to accept you giving the student a reprimand every now and then.
5. Try to build a relationship
Many teachers shut down when dealing with these types of parents. They minimize contact and hope so-and-so behaves so they don’t have to deal with them. These parents are often relationship based individuals. Hence, the reason they believe the child, with whom they have a relationship, over the teacher.
Attempt to cultivate the relationship using the tactics above. Some parents just need that first teacher to open them up. Remember no parent actually believes their child is perfect. Their adverse reactions to teachers likely come from a variety of traits or experiences. If you put enough effort in the relationship you can create a pathway for honest discussion of a student's progress and behavior.
This list may sound like a lot. You may feel like you shouldn’t have to do it. I should point out that most of these things are simply best-practice for teaching in general. Instead of asking why some parents are so difficult maybe be grateful that many of them are easy.