Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fluoride In My Drinking Water: Why I Don't Want It There

Originally published April 4, 2012

Dear Mayor and Council:

I'm writing to you today to ask you to reconsider fluoridating our city's water. I hadn't given it a great deal of thought as problematic until recently, when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an auto-immune condition in which my body is slowly breaking down my thyroid gland. Researching the condition, I've been able to make a number of lifestyle changes that have alleviated a number of symptoms, but the deeper I dig into possible triggers and into foods and substances I'm now better off avoiding, the more concerned I am that there are still a few things I cannot really avoid without going to a great deal of personal expense, spending money that my family and I simply do not have. Fluoride is one of those substances, and it's in our water supply - and nearly impossible to filter out, definitely not with an average home filter. :-( When I researched and discovered that Rockville is one community that still adds fluoride to our water supply, even though there is an increasing number of other communities across the country and around the world who are in fact removing it from their municipal water supplies, I became concerned enough to write about it.

So what's wrong with fluoride in the first place? Why should it NOT be in our water?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Music Lessons - Is My Child Ready?

As a music teacher, that's a question I get a lot from parents of kids of all ages. Since a good chunk of my teaching is in the Early Childhood area, parents of younger and younger kids are asking these kinds of questions, so I thought perhaps since Information Is Power, I'd try to give parents a little more information.

So, some background: I grew up in a home where there was ALWAYS music. My mom is a music teacher: when she found out she was pregnant with me, she was teaching junior high band; she taught lessons one afternoon a week out of a spare room in our house when I was small, and when we moved to a new home when I was in middle school, she eventually expanded to 4 days a week. Over the years she would play in the local high school's pit orchestra when they did their Spring musicals and play the soundtracks for those musicals perpetually during the rehearsal window, so I grew up learning songs from a variety of musical theater classics. (Note to other parents: If you're going to play a soundtrack as background in your house and you have a small child who likes to sing along, find out the lyrics BEFORE your small child asks you about some of them in order to avoid uncomfortable questions you'd rather not answer. LOL) I learned a little piano in Kindergarten and then in first grade I tried a few of the instruments we had around the house, settled on the clarinet, and never looked back. By high school, I had a couple students of my own, and when I went to college, my plan was to become a high school band director. After 6 years in an elementary general music classroom and more time in elementary band, I finally got my chance to do high school band - it only lasted two years, and I learned that politics is definitely not my thing, but at least I can cross it off my Bucket List. :-) The place I always had felt least comfortable was in the elementary general music classroom; the younger the kids were, the more ill-at-ease I felt. Small kids were definitely NOT why I went into Music Education.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spaghetti Squash: Is There Anything It Can't Do?

Spaghetti squash is just about a staple here. Since it's gluten-free AND a vegetable, I'm happy to chow down on it to my heart's content, and the kids think it's kinda cool that a squash can make pasta in the first place, so the novelty got them hooked - that and lots of butter and garlic and salt, and on a good day, PESTO!

Spaghetti squash is so named because when cooked, the flesh becomes stringy when scooped out of the shell (I use a fork), like thin pasta noodles. ("Vermicelli squash" just doesn't have the same ring to it. LOL)

Since I have friends who live in places that don't have this miracle of nature (which seems to be limited to the US and some availability in the UK as far as I can make out) and because a lot of people just don't know what to do with a squash that doesn't lend itself to the usual uses of squash/zucchini......

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Teaching as Gardening, or Another Reason I'm Against Common Core

It's been a long slow slog toward Spring here in the mid-Atlantic this year; on the way to school the other day, Monkey actually sighed wistfully and said, "I wish it was Spring!" I had to break it to her that not only was it already Spring, it had in fact BEEN Spring for over a month. She was understandably underwhelmed as she shivered in the car on the way to school. LOL

Finally, though, we've had a couple weeks without frost, and so I've planted a good portion of my veggies in the garden bed reserved for that purpose. I started, naturally, with the cold-resistant plants: kale, beets, spinach, carrots, peas. These are the ones that grow best in the early spring and in fact, many of them don't do well in too much heat, so once Summer kicks in, the peas will die back and be replaced by cucumbers, and the lettuce will become bitter and the spinach will "bolt," growing tall and sending up a center stem and flowering and going to seed, because their "window" has passed. That, though, is when the green beans, summer squash, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, and okra tend to flourish, in the warmer and hotter weather of later Spring and through the Summer. Once Summer draws to a close, there will be other vegetables to harvest in Fall, some even after the first frost, that aren't even planted yet (but will give us lots of food thru Fall and Winter). In other words, it's not just one garden "season," but a sequence of "seasons."

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Pathology of Education, Part the Second

When last we convened, we had just "discovered" that our youngest child, Monkey, "has" ADD. Yes, those are strategic quotes. IMO, what we have is a normal healthy 8YO who needs a lot of physical activity that current educational pressures don't allow time for, but those aren't traits that help children excel in school. To be fair, there are also some academic concerns, so when our HMO asked at a routine well-child visit if we had any other concerns, I said that we did - and they referred her for an assessment with blinding speed. Her difficulties really came to the forefront during the state-mandated standardized testing in March, recounted here.

The Pathology of Education, Part the First

This has been a rough rough year for my Monkey Child. Bright and cheerful in Kindergarten, known for her smile, it has been distressing this year to find her angrier and more sullen and frequently weepy and a lot LESS smiley. Formerly a pretty chill kid, she has been increasingly fidgety, constantly humming and tapping pencils and jiggling legs - while she's always been a kid in motion, we've seen a dramatic uptick in the fidgeting this school year. While siblings aren't always known for getting along like best buddies, Monkey and Bookworm have been butting heads more and more as the school year goes on. It's also been hard to watch her school grades drop. I've been watching my baby girl, such a bright spark, implode, and I'm worried about that spark going out entirely. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen her truly joyfully happy since school started; before this year, I could probably count on one hand the number of meltdowns she had in the course of a year. She's been keeping up a pretty good front in school, but when she gets home, she has NOTHING left. Something is Very. Very. Wrong.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

#OptOut - Part the Fifth

At last, the comparatively anticlimactic conclusion of the 2014 Opt-Out saga in a highly-regarded Maryland suburban school system, which I began recounting here (Part One), and continued here (Part Two) and here (Part Three). When last we convened (Part Four), my older child's middle school was working with out family to honor our refusal of the MSA's, while the younger child's elementary school went the opposite direction and pulled her from class to give her her own private makeup session. Neither school was in violation of Maryland's State Superintendent's directive to make sure that children who were in school were tested, and yet one school had the courtesy to work collaboratively with a family while the other, who could have done likewise without penalty to them, did the opposite - when they could have helped make the whole experience a lot less miserable for a family who had refused the test in writing, and for a child for whom human interaction and physical movement are like oxygen.

Had the elementary school worked with us and delayed the testing, held off on that personal makeup session, we would have had time to learn about and use "Page 113" of the MSA testing manual. It came across my Facebook newsfeed while I was following the story of another parent in the same school system who was refusing the tests for her children and was being given the same canned responses from the Superintendent and Testing Office. The mother from a neighboring county whom I mentioned in the last installment shared - as she had successfully worked out a deal with her school system to NOW administer the test to her child, NOR to have her "Sit & Stare" - a page from the testing manual which dealt with "student refusal" to take the MSA. There it was, at the bottom, clear as day: "If a student refuses to test, the student is given one additional opportunity to test during the make-up window. At the end of the make-up window, the student Test Books will be included with scorable materials and the student will receive a score on whatever portion of the test (if any) that he or she completed." Absolutely NOWHERE in that paragraph is it required that a student sit with his/her classmates if the test is refused, and in the event that this is mandated elsewhere in the manual, it also does NOT mandate that the child must "Sit & Stare" at the makeup session.

When I forwarded this to the middle school, the reply I got was that their guidance was that our written refusal counted as the initial refusal, and Bookworm not attending during the Monday makeup session would count as the second, after which she could attend school as usual; we only had to keep her home from the actual testing times (I am assuming that schools were still being directed to enforce the Sit & Stare during those windows) and we didn't have to worry about the makeup windows. As it turned out, another snowstorm closed schools on Monday, and she was allowed to attend school on Tuesday and NOT have to sit for any makeups through the end of the testing, so she simply didn't sit for ANY of the test. We had time to discuss and implement the procedural loophole, minimize absences and wear-and-tear on Bookworm, and our wishes were honored - but the way the elementary school handled it didn't brook any such discussion. And sadly, Page 113 didn't come up until Friday, which was AFTER Monkey's (uncalled-for) Personal Makeup Session.

Hubby and I conferred. We could see the stress in Monkey's entire demeanor over the whole testing thing, so we decided, as Page 113 had not yet materialized, to allow her to finish the test the next morning, like ripping off a Band-Aid. When we told her about this, the relief on her face was evident, so we know we made the right decision for her, at that time, with the knowledge we had. I don't think that I will ever live long enough to forgive the school for sneaking the test in on us, though, especially not when it could have been avoided without violating the State Superintendent's directive. Predictably, she was a mess over the following weekend, so we did our best to get her outside and run her silly, and we now - mostly - have our child back. Mostly, and getting better by the day, over a week later.

The tests have been and gone now, except for the last couple days of science tests for 5th and 8th grades. Millions of dollars and weeks of testing time have flowed under the bridge, along with any last vestige of trust in my local elementary school, where over the years I have happily volunteered and substituted, gotten to know hundreds of kids (who still come to my house Trick-or-Treating for Halloween :-)), and tried my best to give them a leg up in a system that seems designed, many days, to beat them down. Did they violate the law in any way? No, they did not - but they violated our family's trust, and that of my child, and things will never be the same.

Should *your* family refuse state standardized tests? That's a decision each family will have to make on their own, but there are a lot of reasons to at least give it serious consideration, and this graphic from the BadAss Teachers Facebook page outlines a number of them. Read, think, consider, and read some more.
Shared from the BadAss Teachers Facebook page. (Pardon the apostrophe in #8; it came with the graphic, and if it gets corrected, I'll post the corrected version.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

#OptOut - Part the Fourth

Hi again, Gentle Readers (and raisers of ruckuses too *grin*).

When last I updated our sordid saga of test refusal in our Maryland school system, we had been basically thrown under the Testing Bus by the superintendent, despite his nationally-aired disregard for this year's administration of an outdated test. The whole time we were exchanging these emails, we were also in touch with the individual schools, AND we were furiously researching online for loopholes. Well..... we found a couple, actually.

Another parent in neighboring Frederick County had successfully managed to get her daughter's school to allow her to read during the tests by filing a suit; the school system offered the deal just before it would have gone to court. Nobody here in Montgomery County was buying that, though.

From the MSEA Facebook page
At the individual school level, things were happening. They had to happen - the testing window was about to begin....and then, the first two days were snowed out as a monster late-season snowstorm swept up the mid-Atlantic.

Woohoo - TWO DAYS of NO TESTING!!! A sign from God, don't you think?

Once the snow had been cleared and school resumed, my kids' schools picked up where they left off, planning to add the missed days at the end of the testing window. The way the two schools handled our family's test refusal spoke to me as much as our superintendent's declining to intervene in any way.

Friday, March 28, 2014

#OptOut - Part the Third

Gentle Reader:
Joshua Starr, MCPS Superintendent (Twitter Avatar)

When last we met, I had posted about our family's attempt to get our school superintendent on board with our efforts to refuse to have our children participate in a test whose only benefit, to our minds, was to provide millions of dollars to the Testing Machine that would be creating, distributing, and scoring the tests - but NONE whatsoever to the students or to the schools. After all, this is a man who was written about in EdWeek about this, and was quoted as having said, "I do not believe it is in the interest of our students or schools for the state of Maryland to administer the MSA this year, and many parents, educators, and local and state leaders feel the same way." He also posted a short video interview about the MSA's.

So, did this guy respond to our concerns?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

#OptOut - Part the Second

Dear Gentle Reader:

When last I posted about our family's refusal to take part in the final installment of Maryland's State school assessment, the MSA, I had just received the following from our county's Testing Office (our school districts are countrywide in Maryland):

Thank you for writing with your concern about your child's participation in the upcoming administration of the Maryland School Assessment (MSA). We are not able to grant permission for students to opt out of taking this statewide test.

MCPS is required to administer the (MSA) and the Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests to students this year. The Maryland State Department of Education has instructed school systems that students may not be granted exemptions or waivers to taking these tests.

All public school students are required to participate in the public school program which includes state mandated testing in reading and mathematics. Therefore, any student in attendance during the multiple weeks that the testing window (including makeups) is in effect, is requiried (sic) by law (NCLB, 2001) to take the assessment.

Just to be clear, Gentle Reader, we had not ASKED for PERMISSION. We had REFUSED to allow our children to be tested. Not at all the same thing. We sent this to the Testing Office in response:

#OptOut - Part The First

Gentle Readers,

I've written about the MSA's before in my blog, when I was a long-term music substitute in my neighborhood elementary school. I've outlined the accumulated weeks of test prep, the practice tests that take hours of instruction that began even before Thanksgiving, the long hours of testing, the children finishing before the blocks of time that had to sit and stare at walls until time was up instead of being allowed to even take out books to read quietly. Well, this year, 2014, was the curtain call for the MSA (which is being scheduled to be replaced by PARCC next year). With the new Common Core curriculum in place through elementary and much of middle school, the MSA, being based on the old curriculum, made little or no sense this year. It wasn't being used as part of teachers' or schools' evaluation, and yet the state was mandating, even in the face of a petition and pending legislation to the contrary, that ALL Maryland public schools set aside 2 weeks for this effort, which cost the state about $9 million.

In the past, our family was reluctant to refuse the test because we did not want our children's teachers or schools to take a hit for lower scores, as in Maryland, untaken tests are scored as "zeroes" and averaged in to aggregate scores, but this year we saw no point to the exercise, and so we sent the following letter to our school system and to our kids' schools, which is based on Opt-Out letters we found on several Facebook opt-out groups.

Standardized Testing: Notes From the Trenches (From March 2012)

Originally published on the now-defunct Crunchy Progressive Parenting Blog on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 (You can tell by the description of the weather in March 2 years ago from today's writing LOL)

Well, the testing madness has begun in Maryland schools, and apparently in other states as well. Even our Public Television station has gotten on board, showing the Arthur episode about the S.W.E.A.T., a fictional standardized test that has students in Arthur's classroom stressing before it even begins. Because as a proctor in my school I've signed an agreement not to disclose any specifics whatsoever about the MSA's, I'm limited in what I can legally share publicly, but a number of general themes have come across in the many Facebook posts I'm reading from other parents and other teachers in different places:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Common Core State Standards: Why American Parents Should Pay Attention

Perhaps you've heard the buzz in the past year or so, or maybe just the more recent outrage, about the "Common Core State Standards." What are they? Why should we care?

There has been an incredible amount written about CCSS from both those who support them and those who oppose them. For anyone who doesn't know or couldn't guess, I'm opposed. STRONGLY. Why? Read on to see: