Monthly Archives: January 2016

Pr. George’s community opposes Forestville High School’s closure

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When Sharon “Grandma” Sims heard Forestville High School might close, she rallied her troops.

A longtime advocate of the high school — which from 2002 to 2013 was the state’s first publicly funded military academy — Sims delivered marching orders via text and email, urging Forestville’s platoon of committed graduates and parents to complain to Prince George’s County school officials.

The head of the county school board said Forestville could be closed at the end of this school year as the county grapples with underperforming schools, declining enrollment and significant renovation needs. A consultant’s report said the county should close 29 of its 198 schools by 2035. A subsequent master plan written by the school system said officials should consider closing up to eight schools by fall 2018.

Forestville has fewer than 800 students, and keeping it open would be an inefficient use of resources, county officials said. They also said it could jeopardize state funding for nearby Suitland High School, which is slated for major renovations. But closure would be a blow to the proud inner-Beltway neighborhood that surrounds the high school.

“This is more than just a school, it’s a family,” 2010 graduate Paul Cruz said during a meeting last week in the school cafeteria. About 50 parents, graduates and students attended to denounce the possible closure, which schools chief Kevin Maxwell revealed at a series of community meetings last month.

Maxwell said the 2015 report from the consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey found that about half of Prince George’s schools are more than 40 years old and in dire need of major updates to critical systems, such as plumbing, heating and air conditioning.

With state funding for schools shrinking, the county said it does not have the money to meet every need and has to make choices. Schools in the northern corner of the county — Hyattsville, Laurel and Beltsville — are overcrowded, while many inner-Beltway and southern-area schools are underused, with low enrollment.

With state funding for schools shrinking, the county said it does not have the money to meet every need and has to make choices. Schools in the northern corner of the county — Hyattsville, Laurel and Beltsville — are overcrowded, while many inner-Beltway and southern-area schools are underused, with low enrollment.

The school system’s Department of Capital Programs put together a master plan, which recommended closing one of three high schools in the near future — Forestville, Friendly or Frederick Douglass — along with seven other schools: Capitol Heights Elementary, Clinton Grove Elementary, Concord Elementary, Mattaponi Elementary, Seat Pleasant Elementary, Skyline Elementary and Tanglewood Regional Special Education School.

“Given the magnitude of the unfunded capital improvement needs in the district, maximizing state participation is extremely important,” school officials said in a statement. “Efficient utilization of our existing schools is a factor that the state looks at to determine when and where to fund school construction.”

School system spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson said officials are focusing on closing Forestville because of their desire to secure state school construction dollars for other buildings. The school system’s master plan specifically mentions 60-year-old Suitland, which is two miles away and houses a performing arts program and an international baccalaureate program.

Forestville students could be divided between Potomac and Suitland high schools, according to the master plan. Maxwell is seeking public comment and is expected to present his proposal to board members Thursday and make a final decision next month.

“There is nothing set in stone,” Johnson said. But “we feel that the cost of inaction is great.”

Shuttering Forestville would be the second blow to the community, after county education officials in 2013 ended an experiment that had turned the long-troubled secondary school into a military academy. Students from the neighborhood and across the county wore military-style uniforms and participated in drills and JROTC classes.

While many parents seemed to love the discipline the school instilled in their children, the changes did not necessarily translate into higher test scores or graduation rates.

The community introduced after-school mentoring and tutoring, Sims said. Neighborhood residents, school families and graduates took pride in Forestville’s award-winning drill teams, championship athletic teams and two Gates Millennium scholars.

But Prince George’s school officials decided to convert the academy back into a typical high school in 2013, giving students the choice between classic instruction and enrolling in specialty “career academy” programs in military sciences and homeland security.

Johnson, the schools spokeswoman, said neighborhood students overwhelmingly chose to participate in the traditional high school program.

“The structure changed. Enrollment went down. Our school spirit changed,” said Andy Michel, who graduated in 2013 and earned a full scholarship to Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. “I don’t think they ever gave Forestville a chance.”

At the meeting last week, other graduates told their stories to state Sen. Ulysses Currie and Dels. Darryl Barnes and Dereck E. Davis, all Prince George’s County Democrats. Warren Christopher, a candidate in the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), was there, too.

“This school changed my life,” said 2013 graduate Emane Boyd, adding that she had been getting into “a lot of trouble” before enrolling there.

Kendric Hilliard, 23, said the academy protected him and his classmates. “I only lost one friend in my 23 years,” said Hilliard, who is now a sergeant in the Army. “I have no RIP shirts in my closet — thanks to Forestville.”

Sims, who is acting president of the parent-teacher association, said Forestville has seen more behavior problems since the military academy has closed. In early 2015, a teacher was assaulted by a student.

About 1,200 people have signed her Change.org petition calling for Forestville to once again become a full military academy. Sims said she would personally take responsibility for recruiting and increasing enrollment if that happened.

“If we are given the opportunity, I stake my life . . . that I will bring them in,” Sims said. “When you come to our house, you will find the finest of the finest.”

Davis, who is running for Congress, said he plans to communicate the community’s concerns to Maxwell. “Schools are part of the fabric of any community,” he said. “There’s no school you can close that won’t cause some kind of angst.”

via Washington Post

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Prince George’s County Activist Killed in Car Crash

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Mr. Greg Hall

Businessman and Prince George’s County community activist Gregory Hall died Monday after a car crash in Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Hall, 45, was driving on the 8700 block of Walker Mill Road about 2:50 a.m. when an SUV smashed into his car, Prince George’s County police said according to the information received via Washington Post.

According to a preliminary investigation, a driver in an SUV headed eastbound veered into oncoming traffic, striking Hall’s westbound car heads on. The SUV then sideswiped a third vehicle, police said.

Hall was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

The driver of the SUV remained at the scene. Investigators are looking into whether alcohol or the driver’s speed was a factor.

The Democratic Central Committee nominated Hall for the Maryland 24th District delegate seat in 2012, but that selection came under question because of drug and gun charges Hall faced decades ago after he was accused of being a drug dealer.

“Hall believed in second chances and wanted everyone to have the same opportunity to get ahead in life,” State Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s) told The Washington Post. “Greg was special and he was going to advocate for what he believed in … In his own way, he pushed all of us to be better.”

Before Mr. Hall passed on, he spoke strongly about the cartels which denied him a second chance within the state court system to be a state delegate after former Governor Martin O’Malley appeared to have influenced the court while Mr. O’Malley appeared to have been engaged in public corruption himself. It is a shame for this to happen now. He seemed to have gotten his life together and was a guiding light to young men in the community.

Reform Sasscer movement secretariat is shocked and saddened by his passing. Mr. Hall was a husband and father and married to a Prince George’s County Public Schools – (PGCPS) Principal. He has young children in the school system. Therefore, He was also a PGCPS parent. Condolences to the family and friends. This is truly a Horrible tragedy.

Anyone with information on the crash is asked to call police at 301-731-4422.

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HANDOUT PHOTO: Prince George’s political activist Gregory Hall, left, with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) at a political rally at Prince George’s Community College in 2010. At the time, Hall was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for a seat in the House of Delegates, representing District 24. Hall came in second in the primary, behind Tiffany Alston. (Courtesy of Larry Stafford ).

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PGCPS Oxon Hill alumna makes Forbes ’30 Under 30′

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LOS ANGELES – Dr.  Constance Iloh recalls seeing Forbes magazine on newsstands when she was a little girl growing up in Prince George’s County.

Now, Iloh can see herself in it.

The education scholar, who received the prestigious UC (University of California) Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Program Fellowship at the University of California, Irvine, never thought that at 28 years old her name would be included among 600 of the brightest young entrepreneurs, breakout talents and change agents in 20 different sectors.

Iloh, who currently lives in Los Angeles, was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of “30 Under 30” in the education category. Several colleagues and established figures in her field reportedly nominated her for this honor.

“I just thank God, not only for this opportunity, but just the journey that has led to this point,” Iloh said. “I feel extremely blessed. I also feel very grateful for my family, friends, mentors and colleagues that have supported me for so long and have believed in the quality of my work and the contributions that I have made. I was the only education scholar/academic to make that list, so I feel especially honored in that regard.”

Iloh pursued undergraduate studies at University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) from 2005 through 2009 as a Gates Millennium Scholar (GMS). The elite, private scholarship program for outstanding minority students is administered through the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Iloh then earned a master’s degree in business management from Wake Forest University in 2010 and a Ph.D from the University of Southern California (USC) in Urban Education Policy in May of 2015.

As a researcher, Iloh’s current agenda addresses the changing landscape of higher education and how it impacts underserved communities, particularly low-income students, students of color and post-traditional students, which often includes working adults. A large amount of her research has examined the privatization of higher education and the emergence of for-profit colleges and the impacts on underserved student groups.

Iloh first became interested in how underserved communities access higher education when she became a GMS. She became passionate about the topic while attending UMD, where she was a research assistant in psychology labs. Iloh explained that she always wanted to be a researcher and earn a Ph.D, although she did not become aware it was possible to earn one for examining and studying higher education until attending business school at Wake Forest.

“While I was at Wake Forest, I realized the pursuit of knowledge, and research particularly, was what I loved the most. A business degree is more practical and I really yearned for the philosophical underpinnings that openly piqued my curiosity, so I knew then that I needed to be in a Ph.D. program,” Iloh said. “I already knew people could get a Ph.D. in education, but I later realized people were advancing and doing substantial work in the area of higher education and post-secondary education. So I started applying for a number of Ph.D programs and I got into my top program, which is USC. I moved to California and started the dream.”

While crediting individuals who supported her throughout her journey, Iloh highlighted her family as a collective. She said her mother, Mercy, has been a cheerleader. Additionally, she described Jackie Iloh as the epitome of a caring big sister who wants her three siblings to have the best of everything. She explained that Jackie told her to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship and empowered her with information about higher education.

Since their parents emigrated from Nigeria, they did not have first-hand knowledge regarding American college-going. Jackie, who now resides in Boston, was a rising junior when Iloh was an incoming freshman at UMD.

Jackie is happy that her sister is being acknowledged for the wonderful work that she is doing.

“She has always worked really hard,” Jackie said. “I think she has always thought about how she can use her gifts to best support other people and I think the research she is doing is going to give the underrepresented students and people a voice they deserve to have on a larger platform. So I am proud of her for maintaining her drive and for continuously working hard.”

Jackie said she also her sister to be a game changer.

“I think there is a pull for quantitative data she found a way to highlight the wonderful work that qualitative research can bring,” Jackie said. “In doing so, she has created a voice for students, and created a narrative, as far as how a lot of people select what kind of college they are going to go to. I think she is changing the way in which we talk about higher education. We usually think of higher education as students going directly from high school to college, but she is showing that there are growing numbers of people who wait and go later and go to for-profit universities.”

Iloh’s forthcoming book about for-profit college-going in the 21st century will be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Visit www.constanceiloh.com to receive future updates about Iloh’s endeavors.

Via Prince George’s County sentinel

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PGCPS prepares to launch parent support programs

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UPPER MARLBORO – When the new school year starts in August, Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) parents will have the opportunity to take to the classroom, but not to study names, dates and arithmetic.

Instead, parents will learn how to play a key role in their children’s lives and in the school’s community.

During a work session on Jan. 7, the Prince George’s County Board of Education took up the task of analyzing how well the school system supports and engages the parents, guardians and alumni of the county. The work session, which focused on family and community engagement, shed light on the efforts the school system is making, not only to seek engagement from families, but also to support them.

Two major factors of this effort are the school system’s anticipated roll out of its online family engagement tool kit and the inaugural “Parent University” classes – the title of which is still under consideration.

Segun Eubanks, the chair of the board, said he was excited for the board to dig deep into family engagement and see where the school system’s staff achieve and struggle in the process. He said there is no single subject “nearer and dearer” to his heart than family and community engagement.

“I entered this work as a parent, a committed and dedicated parent and community member. One who has had tremendously fruitful engagements with the school board, and occasionally not so fruitful. So I understand how difficult and challenging this work is,” he said.

Eubanks said the school system reengaged a parent and community advisory council last year and the group has worked hard on helping PGCPS create ways to include the parents and community in everyday school functions, as well as helping the school system create support for families.

Christian Rhodes, the executive sponsor of the increasing family engagement strategy team, said family engagement is a “cornerstone” for how the district will deliver on the promise of PGCPS.

“I would offer that the quantity of engagement opportunities is not our largest concern. Instead, if we’re honest, it may really rest on the quality of the programmatic opportunities we provide,” he said. “Our work as a strategy team seeks to improve the quality of our efforts and provide a systemic framework that pushes our district far toward ensuring high academic achievement for all.”

Sheila Jackson, the director of family and community engagement, said to fully acknowledge and assist parents in the school system, PGCPS has dedicated itself to ensuring that parent engagement is not just “an add on and its not a program, but rather it is really a dynamic and integral part of ” what the school system does everyday.

“It’s our role, together, to prepare all children to be college and career ready,” she said.

At the meeting on Thursday, the board and school system members went through a prototype of the new “Family and Community Engagement Tool Kit,” which is one way the school system plans to increase engagement and support for parents.

“This tool kit is a living, breathing, ever evolving portal that provides access to videos, links, research, strategies and best practices from leading experts in family and community engagement,” said Tanisha Hanible, a family and community engagement specialist.

The portal, as a resource guide, will increase communication and collaboration and will help parents assist their students in their studies. Rollout of the online program is tentatively expected for the next school year, 2016-2017.

Another major program anticipated in the new academic year is the “Parent University,” though it may have a new name by the time it comes to fruition.

Desann Manzano-Lee, a family and community engagement specialist, said the plan for the parent program was announced in PGCPS Chief Executive Officers’ state of the school system address in December and has existed in the United States since the 1980s.

“‘Parent University’ is an engagement strategy that affords a unique opportunity for parents, schools and the community to become jointly involved in education, increasing the likelihood of academic and personal success for our students and their families,” Manzano-Lee said.

The classes and workshops, which will be offered in school sites as well as community centers, will help parents advocate for their children by “informing families about everything from navigating the school website to the role they can play in guiding policy.”

Manzano-Lee said the program will also give parents a way to network with professionals and other parents, share expertise and serve as trainers. The classes will focus on three main topics: parent empowerment, 21st century learners and health and wellness. The program is built off of input from members in the school system, as well as research and visit, into programs across the country.

The school system is still working on the final stages of both the “Parent University” and the tool kits before they begin classes and open the website to the public. All the feedback received at the work session from the board of education and community members will be taken into account for the final plans, said Andrea Phillips-Hughes, the Title I supervisor for family and community engagement.

“First and foremost, we strive to make sure, to ensure we do everything we can so that our students will have outstanding academic achievement,” she said. “And, being honest, we have worked toward our mission. We have recognized that we still have a lot of work to do.”

via Prince George’s County sentinel

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Student brings gun to PGCPS middle school

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A student at Prince George’s County’s Nicholas Orem Middle School brought a loaded gun to school Wednesday, authorities said.

Officials pulled the boy out of class — and seized the weapon from a backpack — after someone called in about it with an anonymous tip, Prince George’s County schools spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson said. She said Hyattsville City Police are investigating the incident.

Johnson said she did not know what the student’s intent was in bringing the weapon to school, though in a statement, she added, “at no time were students or staff in danger.” The school’s principal sent a letter home to parents detailing the incident on the day it occurred, Johnson said.

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O’Malley purchase of furniture from mansion being probed by prosecutor

o'MALLEYFormer Governor Martin O’Malley and his family paid $9,638 for beds, chairs, desks, lamps and other items from the mansion’s living quarters that originally cost taxpayers $62,000

Maryland state officials had little to say Friday about a criminal probe that has been launched into former governor Martin O’Malley’s purchase of furniture from the state at a steep discount when he left office last January.

A spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney, Wes Adams (R), confirmed late Thursday that the office is investigating the purchases by O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

The O’Malley family bought dozens of pieces of furniture and other items from the governor’s mansion after state officials deemed it “excess property,” according to state records.

O’Malley has tried to position himself as the most electable alternative to Hillary Clinton, but he has been unable to build momentum in a campaign season dominated by a large, unpredictable GOP field and the unexpected surge on the Democratic side of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“This is a bogus political attack that the Maryland Republicans have tried to make stick,” Morris said. “And it’s sad that they’re wasting taxpayer re­sources on it.”

The probe is being handled by Adams, who took office in the heavily Republican county last January. One of his first actions was to rid his office of Democratic prosecutors. He later hired Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), as an assistant state’s attorney.

Adams launched the investigation after receiving an email about the furniture purchase from state Secretary of General Services C. Gail Bassette, according to the Sun. Bassette is an appointee of O’Malley’s successor, Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Heather Epkins, Adams’s spokeswoman, said he is following a legal process, without political motivations, and would “utilize the same process” were he to receive similar complaints about a Republican.

A spokesman for Hogan, who has publicly questioned O’Malley’s purchase of the furniture in recent months, declined to comment Friday, saying it would be inappropriate during an ongoing criminal investigation.

Other cases of alleged wrong­doing by state officials have been investigated by State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, an O’Malley appointee. Davitt’s staff said he was not available for comment Friday.

James Cabezas, a chief investigator in Davitt’s office, said Adams is “within his legal authority” to conduct an investigation.

He said it is not unusual for a county state’s attorney to conduct a preliminary inquiry and then hand the case to the state. It would also not be unusual for Adams to keep the case, he said.

O’Malley said in September that he was “kind of surprised” by the controversy over his furniture purchase, saying his family “followed the rules as they were laid out to us.” He said the family paid what the Department of General Services determined was the furniture’s depreciated value.

“I know there was no negotiating of the price,” O’Malley said in September. “We were just told it was some sort of standard depreciation formula they had used for the prior family.”

O’Malley aides say Ehrlich purchased furniture under the same procedures when he moved out of the governor’s mansion in 2007. Ehrlich purchased a lesser amount of furniture.

Hogan, who moved into the mansion a year ago, was asked about the controversy during a news conference in September. He said he asked O’Malley during a tour of the mansion about the “beautiful” furniture and asked whether the items belong to him or to the state. “He’s been misleading,” Hogan said.

Via Washington Post

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Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?

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By VICKI ABELES

STUART SLAVIN, a pediatrician and professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, knows something about the impact of stress. After uncovering alarming rates of anxiety and depression among his medical students, Dr. Slavin and his colleagues remade the program: implementing pass/fail grading in introductory classes, instituting a half-day off every other week, and creating small learning groups to strengthen connections among students. Over the course of six years, the students’ rates of depression and anxiety dropped considerably.

But even Dr. Slavin seemed unprepared for the results of testing he did in cooperation with Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., a once-working-class city that is increasingly in Silicon Valley’s orbit. He had anonymously surveyed two-thirds of Irvington’s 2,100 students last spring, using two standard measures, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The results were stunning: 54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression. More alarming, 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

“This is so far beyond what you would typically see in an adolescent population,” he told the school’s faculty at a meeting just before the fall semester began. “It’s unprecedented.” Worse, those alarming figures were probably an underestimation; some students had missed the survey while taking Advanced Placement exams.

What Dr. Slavin saw at Irvington is a microcosm of a nationwide epidemic of school-related stress. We think of this as a problem only of the urban and suburban elite, but in traveling the country to report on this issue, I have seen that this stress has a powerful effect on children across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life. Children living in poverty who aspire to college face the same daunting admissions arms race, as well as the burden of competing for scholarships, with less support than their privileged peers. Even those not bound for college are ground down by the constant measurement in schools under pressure to push through mountains of rote, impersonal material as early as preschool.

Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children’s health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick.

Nearly one in three teenagers told the American Psychological Association that stress drove them to sadness or depression — and their single biggest source of stress was school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vast majority of American teenagers get at least two hours less sleep each night than recommended — and research shows the more homework they do, the fewer hours they sleep. At the university level, 94 percent of college counseling directors in a survey from last year said they were seeing rising numbers of students with severe psychological problems.

At the other end of the age spectrum, doctors increasingly see children in early elementary school suffering from migraine headaches and ulcers. Many physicians see a clear connection to performance pressure.

“I’m talking about 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds who are coming in with these conditions. We never used to see that,” says Lawrence Rosen, a New Jersey pediatrician who works with pediatric associations nationally. “I’m hearing this from my colleagues everywhere.”

What sets Irvington apart in a nation of unhealthy schools is that educators, parents and students there have chosen to start making a change. Teachers are re-examining their homework demands, in some cases reviving the school district’s forgotten homework guideline — no more than 20 minutes per class per night, and none on weekends. In fact, research supports limits on homework. Students have started a task force to promote healthy habits and balanced schedules. And for the past two years, school counselors have met one on one with every student at registration time to guide them toward a manageable course load.

“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said one Irvington teacher, who has seen the problem worsen over her 16 years on the job.

A growing body of medical evidence suggests that long-term childhood stress is linked not only with a higher risk of adult depression and anxiety, but with poor physical health outcomes, as well. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, a continuing project of the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, shows that children who experience multiple traumas — including violence, abuse or a parent’s struggle with mental illness — are more likely than others to suffer heart disease, lung disease, cancer and shortened life spans as adults. Those are extreme hardships but a survey of the existing science in the 2013 Annual Review of Public Health suggested that the persistence of less severe stressors could similarly act as a prescription for sickness.

“Many of the health effects are apparent now, but many more will echo through the lives of our children,” says Richard Scheffler, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “We will all pay the cost of treating them and suffer the loss of their productive contributions.”

Paradoxically, the pressure cooker is hurting, not helping, our kids’ prospects for success. Many college students struggle with critical thinking, a fact that hasn’t escaped their professors, only 14 percent of whom believe that their students are prepared for college work, according to a 2015 report. Just 29 percent of employers in the same study reported that graduates were equipped to succeed in today’s workplace. Both of those numbers have plummeted since 2004.

Contrary to a commonly voiced fear that easing pressure will lead to poorer performance, Saint Louis medical school students’ scores on the medical boards exams have actually gone up since the stress reduction strategy was put in place.

At Irvington, it’s too early to gauge the impact of new reforms, but educators see promising signs. Calls to school counselors to help students having emotional episodes in class have dropped from routine to nearly nonexistent. The A.P. class failure rate dropped by half. Irvington students continue to be accepted at respected colleges.

There are lessons to be learned from Irvington’s lead. Working together, parents, educators and students can make small but important changes: instituting everyday homework limits and weekend and holiday homework bans, adding advisory periods for student support and providing students opportunities to show their growth in creative ways beyond conventional tests. Communities across the country — like Gaithersburg, Md., Cadiz, Ky., and New York City — are already taking some of these steps. In place of the race for credentials, local teams are working to cultivate deep learning, integrity, purpose and personal connection. In place of high-stakes childhoods, they are choosing health.

Via New York Times

Vicki Abeles is the author of “Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation,” and director and producer of the documentaries “Race to Nowhere” and “Beyond Measure.”

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