Archive for the ‘Education’ category

Coping with the stress of back to school

August 27, 2019

During the summer, many of us get a little spoiled by more sleep in the morning and a smoother commute to work.

During the fall, many of us wake up earlier – and wake up sleepy kids – to deal with more traffic, tricky school schedules, and homework (when we thought we were done with school).

Children and teenagers face their own stress about school – making new friends, finishing homework, studying for tests, getting good grades, and their own changing bodies.

Mental Health America has an “Are You Stressed Out?” handout that reminds us that stress is normal and can even help us by giving us more energy to handle tense situations. But it can become a bad thing when you feel it all the time.

The key thing to remember is that “You might not be able to change what is stressing you out, but you can control how you react and respond to stress.”

Here are three things we can all do to cope with stress:

Exercise. One of the best ways to handle built-up stress is to physically release it. My 12-year old son still tumbles on the bed and jumps around with a yardstick-turned-lightsaber when he needs a break. (Don’t tell him I said that).

Write down things we are grateful for. Showing gratitude can improve our mood and help us better handle adversity. In a similar way, I encourage my son to focus on positive things, such as the best part of his day. And before I go to sleep, I jot down some good things about each day.

Watch something funny. Laughter can reduce stress hormones, improve our mood, and make us feel more relaxed. One of my co-workers always has a joke to share. Sometimes, my son and I watch bad movies just so we can laugh at them.

We can also try to view the stress of back to school as opportunities to learn. The earlier wake-up time can teach us discipline. The longer commute can teach us patience. The longer work day can teach us to set boundaries between work, school, and home life.

How well do you handle stress at home and work? What stress-reduction methods work for you? What are you teaching your children or grandchildren about managing stress?


Looking back on seventh grade

July 9, 2019

Another school year has passed by so quickly, and my son finished seventh grade. In this second year of middle school, he settled into the new schedule and new commute, more familiar with the campus, his classmates, and the teachers.

In many ways, seventh grade was harder on us as parents than on the students.

Here are some reflections about our seventh grade experience:

Learning a new language (and that no one is good at everything). Seventh grade students were required to take a foreign language, and my son signed up for Mandarin. We thought it would be practical. We knew it would be challenging. But we didn’t take into account how fast-paced the class would be or consider that he doesn’t have family or friends to practice with. He spent many late nights and early mornings trying to keep up.

Letting him rebound from failure. It was hard for me to a step back and not check his homework planner or review every assignment unless he asked for my help (and he didn’t ask often). As much as possible, I tried to let him succeed or fail on his own. He needs chances to learn that there’s nothing wrong with failure, as long as you learn from it.

Asserting his independence. More than ever, he is asserting his independence – deciding how he spends his time, honing his debate skills (or arguing stubbornly, depending on your point of view), and stating his opinions, often forcefully. Sometimes he is so focused on preparing his next argument that he doesn’t listen to other people’s points of view.

Technology helps and hinders. Most of his assignments were available online. This meant he could view the project rubrics at any time, edit assignments at school or home, and keep his work organized and backed up. There are also technology blips, like times when he submitted an assignment and his teacher did not receive it, or times when he’s lost work because he’s spoiled by auto-save.

Many teachers. As a parent, it’s very hard to have a personal relationship with his teachers because there are different teachers for each subject. If things go well, we might meet them once at the “open house” and get to know them through email updates, but there are no parent-teacher conferences. We couldn’t pop into his classroom after school to say “hi,” and I missed that.

In his own words. “I’ve developed as a student to be more aware of the real world. This includes global issues and keeping up to date in current events.” When asked what someone else would say about him, he responded, “He has grown as a student in terms of writing, presenting, etc. Yet, he still has issues with negative feelings and seeing the light in situations.”

What do you remember most about seventh grade? Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a middle school student today?

Online classes at the public library

July 24, 2018

To earn the “Turn Up the Techno” badge, one of the activities is to learn something new. You’re supposed to click on the ‘Learn’ tab of the library website to find online classes. So I did, and I ended up registering for a couple of online classes. Well played, Summer Reading Program!

I was impressed by the variety of online courses available, accounting, business, and technology to healthcare, languages, and writing. Some of them even offer certificates of completion.

There are a lot of free and paid online classes available, but the Gale Courses are free, have courses I want to take, and – most importantly – let me support the Hawaii State Public Library System. I’m sure that library funding is helped by the number of library users, borrowed books, and services used, so this is a small way to support our public libraries.

I signed up for a class in “Spirituality, Health, and Healing.” It is a six-week self-directed, reading-intensive course with a clear syllabus, twelve lessons, a 30-question test at the end of each lesson, and an open discussion area where you can talk with the instructor and other students. There are no assignments, other than some optional self-assessments within the lessons. Other classes may be set up differently.

The course covers topics such as the characteristics of spirituality, rituals, culture, assessment, grieving, and aging. It emphasizes that spiritual well-being is the ability to find meaning, value, and purpose in life and thus to feel content, fulfilled, and happy. It teaches students about different faiths in a respectful and inclusive way.

The conviction that one of the healthcare provider’s first duties is to inspire hope – not for a cure, but for healing – resonated with me. I work at a small healthcare office, and I am learning that healing is a continual process, a transformative process.

The instructors were responsive and encouraging. They also included some self-assessment questions that really made me thing about my own views about life, spirituality, and dying. I think that living in a multicultural state like Hawaii makes some of the material easier to absorb and more familiar.

I’ve already signed up for a few other classes over the next months (and I earned the “Turned Up!” badge). If anyone is in the “Leadership” class, maybe we’ll meet up in the Discussion Area.

Have you ever completed an online class? Do you think that online classrooms are effective? Which courses would you recommend?

Looking back on sixth grade

July 3, 2018

My son finished sixth grade in May. Summer is half over, and I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on our sixth grade experience.

I knew that sixth grade would be a time of big changes for my son – and for us. He would be testing his independence and challenging us even more. It’s a year earlier than when I went to school, when sixth grade was still considered elementary school.

Here are some thoughts about our sixth grade experience:

More complicated schedules. My son’s schedule was different every day, with six different schedules A-F. At first, he didn’t like it and had a hard time adjusting. About five weeks into the school year, the schedule started to click. Ultimately, the six-day schedule let him participate in more classes than in a regular Monday to Friday week.

Earlier wake-up time. Since we had to drive farther to get to school and had to deal with more traffic, we both had to get up earlier than when he was in elementary school. Sometimes he used the time to go over vocabulary words. Sometimes he took naps on the way to school in the morning and on the way home in the afternoon. The earlier wake-up time really conflicted with his…

Changing sleeping habits. He stayed up later to do homework, study, and relax, and he had a harder time waking up in the morning. I read recently that if we want to improve educational results for teenagers, we should start the school day later. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “later sleep and wake patterns among adolescents are biologically determined; the natural tendency for teenagers is to stay up late at night and wake up later in the morning.”

More homework, less sleep. It seemed that he had a lot more homework than in fifth grade. Other students told him that his teacher was one of the stricter teachers in sixth grade (which should make seventh grade less stressful). He spent less time using his planner, which meant more last-minute work. He spent more time with his humanities and social studies work, which made his performance in math and science falter a little. We asked him to write a plan for improving next year.

First time away from home, alone. I’m sure it was more traumatic for us, than for him. The house was so quiet when he was gone. Even our yellow lab was more subdued. He wasn’t excited to go to camp, but he came back full of enthusiasm. He had a great group of camp counselors who made him feel welcome.

Chapel. He attended chapel every two weeks, but the focus was more on building character and promoting understanding. The highlight was a skit that each class had to perform. The class had only a limited time to learn songs and choreography, and then they performed in front of the rest of the sixth graders (and some curious parents).

In his words. “There were a lot [of] downsides to this year as I experienced inappropriate, enraging, and intriguing behavior and students. I have also been more exposed to kids’ nature and their games, such as Fortnite, learning about drama between both teenagers and other students such as ‘shipping’ [real people or fictional characters in a romantic relationship] … There were some awesome experiences I had! Camp was probably the best thing I can think of for this year, since I got to meet so many new people and make new friends.”

What do you remember about your sixth grade? If you have middle school children, how are expectations about student learning different from when you were in middle school?

We need student legislators

April 10, 2018

Recently, I wrapped up my review of the 2018 Hawaii Legislative Session, and hearing about the student-led marches to protest gun violence, it occurred to me that something was missing in all the proposals – and missing from the way that we govern.

There is an entire group of Hawaii residents who may be represented in government, and yet don’t have their own voice in government. They make up 21.6% of Hawaii’s population – over 308,500 individuals, according to a July 2016 US Census estimate. Who is this under-represented constituency?


More youth are becoming starting companies like Moziah “Mo” Bridges, founder of Mo’s Bows and Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress; writing books like Alex and Brett Harris (“Do Hard Thing: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations”) and Christopher Paolini (“Eragon”); and becoming politically active like Malala Yousafzai and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.

Adults advocate for children, but students need their own voice in government. Not only would it allow students to advocate for themselves, it would give them valuable experience in the legislative process, inspire other youth to scrutinize government, and encourage young adults to vote.

Here are a few thoughts about how it could work:

* Student eligibility. We could create five “at large” student legislative positions for youth residents of Hawaii who are between the ages of 14 to 19 at the time of the election. They would have to be enrolled for at least the past two years in a public, private, or charter high school in Hawaii, or be home-schooled. Like all state legislators, student legislators would be elected for two-year terms, but they would be limited to two terms – with the option of running for a regular legislative seat after age 18.

* Reorganize the legislature to reduce costs. To allow for additional legislators without increasing the legislature’s size or budget, we could create a unicameral legislature, in which there is only one legislature (instead of a separate House of Representatives and Senate). This could reduce the number of proposed bills and allow more time for discussion.

* Adjust the legislative calendar to accommodate the school calendar. To accommodate students and allow more time for public discussion, we could extend the legislative session over the year. There would be bill introductions during spring break, legislative sessions during the summer, and second crossover or final votes during fall break.

* Amend legislative meeting requirements to allow for video conferencing. Student legislators may live on neighbor islands, and would be reimbursed for travel, lodging, and incidentals. However, it might be a hardship to continuously travel while attending school and participating in extracurricular activities. We could expand the Senate Video Conferencing Pilot Project to include public testimony as well as committee discussion and legislative voting.

I realize this is not a quick or simple change to the Hawaii legislature. If you think of other considerations that would need to be addressed, feel free to write them in the comments below.

Do you think that youth should have a larger role in Hawaii’s government? Do you know any high school students who you would nominate as a youth legislator?

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Education

March 6, 2018

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature is in full swing, with an overwhelming 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate) up for discussion and debate. There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intensions. This year, instead of compiling an overview, I decided to narrow it down to the bills that I think need the most consideration and debate.

Last week, I highlighted three significant tax bills to watch. This week, I’m summarizing three significant education issues proposed in the 2018 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any important bills, please let me know!

1. Should curriculum be imposed top-down? There are five major proposed changes to the K-12 curriculum. The bills include requiring an anti-bullying program; implementing a sexual abuse prevention program; setting civics knowledge requirements for graduating students; offering computer science or design thinking/coding classes, or accepting them in place of a math or science class; and teaching digital citizenship and media literacy. I do not oppose these curriculum changes, but I believe that many of them are already being implemented in schools. I wonder why the Legislature must mandate these programs from above, instead of letting the Hawaii DOE set curriculum policies. Is state legislation required to make these curriculum changes?

 The Legislature also seems to be unnecessarily managing other aspects of the school day, such as requiring schools to have at least 15 minutes of recess before lunch (SB2385) and requiring schools to provide allow at least 30 minutes for lunch (SB2386). The schools should have the responsibility to reasonably set and adjust their own schedules.

2. Are 3-year olds ready for school? Legislators want to open preschool for 3-year olds, in addition to 4-year olds (HB388 HD1 and SB181). However, not all 3-year olds are ready for structured school. In fact, not all 4-year olds are ready for structured school. Children may learn better in a home environment, with nurturing parents and caretakers I believe that the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) needs to focus on its current K-12, undergraduate, and graduate responsibilities, instead of expanding its mandate.

3. How can we promote college attendance? Higher education can lead to better employment opportunities and higher salaries, while lowering the chances of being unemployed and needing government assistance. Legislators are proposing an income tax credit for college savings contributions (HB128 HD1, SB2544), tax deductions for college savings account contributions (SB3062), income tax deductions for student loan interest payments (HB1276 HD1 SD1 and SB1081 SD1), and even paying student loans with pre-tax income (HB958). I am less convinced about another proposed bill, HB373 HD1, which would establish a state matching grant program for resident undergraduate UH students with financial need and whose parents have not earned a baccalaureate or higher degree. I don’t know which bill(s) would be most effective, but I like the intended effects: to encourage people to save for college, and to help recent college graduates manage their college loans and help them gain control of their finances.

4. How can we encourage more teachers to remain in Hawaii? There is a chronic teacher shortage in Hawaii public schools. Only 52% of new teachers in Hawaii stay for five years, according to a Teacher Recruitment Data Report for 2016-2017; and 43% of teachers who resigned from the DOE left Hawaii, according to the DOE Employment Report SY2016-2017. HB2166 has an elegant solution: create housing vouchers for full-time classroom public school teachers. In Hawaii, we may not be able to pay teachers what they are worth, and we can’t do anything about the high cost of living, but perhaps we can make sure that they have an affordable place to live.

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

Success and the well-balanced student

October 10, 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about education recently – choosing the right school, the right amount of homework, the right number of extracurricular activities.

Recently, I attended an Education Fair and listened to guest speaker Dr. Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success, who lectured about “A Balanced Approach to Success: K through Life.” I appreciate the invitation to join other interested parents, and I offer a big mahalo to Dr. Pope, the event organizers, and welcoming volunteers.

The morning began with reflection: how do we define success? How does the community define success? There seemed to be a general consensus that families tend to prioritize intrinsic values like character and resilience, while the community tends to prioritize extrinsic values like high grades/test scores and college admissions.

Dr. Pope declared that our values about education should match our community’s values, because we are the community. So why do families and the community define success differently? What message are we sending our children? What can we do to reinforce the idea that character, kindness, and problem solving are equally or more important than grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities? Take a few minutes to consider what success means to you.

From Dr. Pope’s keynote, here are three take-aways I learned about success and the well-balanced student:

1. It’s the kid, not the school. Success is not a straight line, from grade school to college to a good job to happiness, Dr. Pope declared. Attending a “good” school and getting a “good” job will not guarantee happiness or success. Rather, success is a meandering path, with unexpected turns and setbacks, and there is no one path to success that fits everyone. So we need to redefine what success means.

2. Every family needs a family mission statement. Businesses and organizations write mission statements that keep them on-target with their values and goals. Families need mission statements, too, that show how we value play time, down time, and family time – and so that we don’t overschedule ourselves. Play time is unstructured play. Down time is relaxing, sleep, and time to dream – remember, it’s okay for kids to be bored. Family time, at least 25 minutes a day, five days a week, lets us connect with each other and form strong bonds. Then, once we agree on a family mission statement, we need to align our values with our actions.

3. Help schools create SPACE. In addition to curriculum, teachers, and learning resources, schools also need to create SPACE for students: Schedule and use of time (revising student schedules and homework policies), Project and problem-based learning (relevant assignments with a community service component), Alternative and authentic assessment (multiple forms of assessment), C Climate of care (social and emotional learning), E Educating parents, students, and faculty (facilitating dialog and professional development).

Dr. Pope’s discussion of the “Alternative and authentic assessment” really resonated with me. In the workplace, we don’t have just one chance to turn in an assignment and we don’t get a letter grade for our presentation. We can revise presentations, proposals, and projects as we go along. In fact, we can build on the questions and comments we receive to create better presentations.

Note: The SPACE framework is a lot to take in, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all plan for every school. You can read examples of the types of changes on the Challenge Success website under “School Resources.”

Do your children or grandchildren have a good school-life balance? Do you have a good work-life balance? What one thing can you do to have a more well-balanced life?