Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Camp Bournedale Fun!

Hello Barrows Community!
The 5th grade students, staff, and parents down at Camp Bournedale are having a blast!  Students have had the opportunity to participate in 4 classes, eat meals together (family style), have open recreation time, ice cream sundae party, a reptile presentation, and a magician!  All students did well sleeping in their cabins at night and are not off to their classes for the day (Costal Ecology, Lobster Boat Adventure, Marine Lab, and Project Adventure.)  We will be heading home to Barrows this afternoon and hope to be arriving around 4:30pm.
Project Adventure Teamwork

Project Adventure Teamwork

Family Style Meals - Barrows & Eaton together

Recreation Time
Magic Show

Magic Show

Magic Show
Cabin Fun
Marine Lab - buoyancy
Marine Lab - Shark Dissection

Monday, September 8, 2014

Does Back-to-School Bring Mixed Emotions? We have tips, resources...

An interesting piece about transitioning back to school written by the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, but many points are applicable to all students. 

education update
As fall approaches and our children settle into school, we know many of our families have mixed emotions about the transition to a new school year.   

You may feel relief that you are entering back into more of a scheduled and routine way of life while, at the same time, you may feel anxiety about the school-year ahead.  

Our children are transitioning into classrooms with new teachers, new classmates, and, for students entering kindergarten, middle school, or high school, they may be entering into entirely new buildings.

This feeling is more poignant for parents of children with special needs. When your child has significant communication and learning needs, the anxiety for parents of your child entering a new grade is felt much more acutely. 

  • Will my child's teacher understand their needs and have patience as we all adjust?
  • Will my child's teacher be supported by the principal as he/she gets to know my student and seeks out resources to support both their instruction and my child?
  • Will the other students make an effort to get to know my child and find out how (insert wonderful quality unique to your child here) they are?

The list of questions parents ask themselves could go on forever. Hopefully, by mid-September, you'll be able to look back and say, "Why was I so worried?"

In the meantime, it's that time of year for the MDSC to share again some "back to school" tips for parents based on the many September transitions that I experienced as a teacher. Hopefully these tips and resources will get you to the middle of September with a little less stress than before!


For teachers, the start of the year is crazy...
This is important for parents to know.  Both right before, and at the very beginning, teachers are working non-stop to prepare for the upcoming year. Many school systems only pay teachers for one day before the start of school, but it's important to know that most teachers have put in multiple hours over the summer to prepare. Despite hours of prep, there are always unanticipated issues at the beginning of the school year and it is impossible for teachers to juggle it all without something getting put on the back burner. So, keeping that in mind, if initial efforts at communication within the first couple of days are not immediately returned, don't let it put you off.  It is likely that your teachers have a very full plate and are not intentionally avoiding you.  Give it a couple of days, and if you don't hear anything, try again.  Odds are your teacher will appreciate a second chance.

Be transparent about the type of information you are looking for...
Teachers appreciate parents being real and transparent about the specific information that they are looking for.  If you would like a copy of your child's push in/pull out/specialists schedule, go right ahead and ask for it.  Know that the information may not be readily available, but put it out there.   It's ok to even ask for a rough timeline about when you can expect it. This is an honest question and it's ok to seek out information that will let you know when you can expect your child's year-long schedule to be implemented.

Be flexible about how you get the information...
Email, handwritten note, phone call...all of these represent "preferred" types of communication of teachers, depending upon their communication style. Some teachers make all their phone calls at 3 pm, where others are late night e-mailers. A few die-hards still others jot down handwritten notes to parents while the students are at gym or art.   If teachers are able to communicate in the manner in which they find most comfortable, odds are you will receive a response quicker. 

Be honest and up front about questions or concerns you have...
Make sure you let your teachers know right away if there is something going on that you are feeling uncomfortable with. Bringing these things up in an honest, non-confrontational way is the quickest way to resolve the issue, and let the teacher know that the relationship that you are trying to develop is one of trust, not one of suspicion.  

Share info from home that could support your child in the classroom...
It was a rough night. Your student is coming down with a cold.  Mom or Dad is traveling.  Getting out the door was hard this morning. All of these things affect your child, and giving your teachers the "heads-up" about these things can go a long way in supporting your child with having a successful day. When teachers know and understand that there may be some precipitating factors that could affect how your child may be able to "process" the many demands of the day, teachers will be able to appropriately plan for and respond to your child.

Stay connected to the MDSC...
We, here at the MDSC, want you to know that we want to continue to support you as you transition back to school. We are looking forward to continuing our webinar series and we are excited to meet with families from all over Massachusetts at our Regional Educational Workshop series. Following this letter, read on to find out all the different ways that you can stay connected to the MDSC and access resources and programs that may be supportive to your families.

We encourage families to reach out to us when you have questions or need advice throughout the school year. We will do everything we can do to connect you with resources to support you as you face challenges while navigating the ever-complex job of advocating for your child. 

Please feel free to call or email me at 781-221-0024 (x301) or mblazejewski@mdsc.org any time you have education related questions. 

Wishing you all the best as you get through these next few critical weeks of school transition.

Best Regards,

Mo Blazejewski
MDSC Education Director

First Lesson of the School Year: Your Brain Can Grow

First Lesson of the School Year: Your Brain Can Grow

Students will enter school this year with all sorts of supplies and feelings. The pens, notebooks, books and class schedules will fit neatly inside their backpacks. The feelings, including excitement, fear, enthusiasm, and misgivings, can be confusing, shifting, and harder to pin down.
They will also bring something intangible but very important for their success: a set of beliefs about their ability to learn - about their capacity and potential. This mindset is more powerful than their test scores or class rank, and it isn't always self-evident or obvious. It shows up when we listen closely to how young people talk about school:
The impact of mindset
We might miss the importance of statements that our kids make, but Carol Dweck doesn't. She's the world's leading researcher on mindsets, and her work gives us a lot of insights about our kids' beliefs about themselves and their ability to learn.
Professor Dweck has worked with thousands of students across the country to explore the divergent impacts of what she calls "growth" and "fixed" mindsets on academic achievement. According to Dweck, students with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities are hardwired traits and that talent is what leads to success, not effort. In contrast, students with a growth mindset believe that abilities can be developed through persistence and hard work. They understand that their brain is like a muscle and that exercise and practice can strengthen it. Students with a growth mindset see mistakes as part of living and learning. Their motto is, "Never give up."
Here is the difference between how a fixed mindset and a growth mindset might interpret a poor score on a physics exam:
Learning from mistakes
Research shows that students with a fixed mindset see mistakes as a sign of failure. Students with a growth mindset see mistakes as an opportunity to learn. When students start to avoid making mistakes they aren't just stepping back from risk and challenge, they are stepping back from new learning and knowledge.
Of course these beliefs don't come out of nowhere. Stereotypes (e.g. "girls are bad at math"), educator's mindsets, cultural narratives about success, praise, and our own assumptions all influence young people's mindsets.
The good news? Not surprisingly, mindsets themselves aren't fixed either. Evidence shows that even small interventions can shift a student's beliefs and boost achievement. We've written before about the impact of praise and nurturing real self-esteem.
Another secret to fostering the growth mindset in students is to teach them about the brain itself.
"Whatever the brain does a lot of, is what the brain gets good at."
While compelling evidence has been building for years now Dweck and her team are conducting large scale, randomized, and controlled trials to substantiate their claims that learning about the brain shifts the way that students think about their education and ultimately impacts achievement. For example, in one study students read an article explaining how the brain grows and develops and then were asked to write a letter of advice to a "struggling" student. Even this small exercise yielded positive results. The intervention increased the rate at which underperforming students achieved satisfactory grades when compared to the control group.
This isn't to say that teaching a growth mindset is going to solve all of our problems in education. We need to be wary of any theory that simplifies the issue. Don't believe any "expert" who says, "If students just believed in themselves there wouldn't be an achievement gap." It's more complicated than that. Solving the achievement gap is going to require a hard look at systemic barriers to learning like poverty, toxic stress, and inequitable access to resources.
But in the meantime, we should make sure that every student knows that their brain has the capacity to grow.
Make the first lesson of this school year be about growth:
  • Recognize hard work and perseverance instead of "natural" gifts and talents.
  • Normalize mistakes and model ways to learn from them.
  • Reveal the "hidden stories" of success. For example, how much practice it takes for world class athletes to get to the top of their game.
  • Express pride and praise your student takes on new challenges.
  • Talk to your child's teacher. How are exams treated? As judgement or an opportunity to learn? How are mistakes treated?
  • Teach your student about their brain. It is like a muscle - exercise it and it gets stronger.

Jail & Bail support!

Thank you to all the students, families, and staff members that 'bailed' me out of Jail at the Reading Faire this weekend.  I appreciate your support in the fundraising efforts for the Understanding Disabilities organization and the work they do to expand understanding for our school communities.

Thanks again for bailing me out!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mrs. Leonard is getting JAILed! Come BAIL me out!

I will be locked up around 4:00 P.M. on Sunday to support the Understanding Disabilities fundraiser.
blue gold border

Jail & Bail to Benefit UD

Jail & Bail to Benefit
Understanding Disabilities, Inc.
Sunday, September 7
12:00 to 5:00
@ the Reading Fall Street Faire
We're All the Same Inside
Understanding Disabilities, Inc. is a non-profit organization that helps children in Reading see beyond people's disabilities and focus on the ways we're all alike inside.
Please Like UD on facebook
Dear Friends,   

I am going to be JAILed and I need your help to BAIL me out!

Actually, I am offering to be jailed for a good cause.   I am participating in Understanding Disabilities' Jail & Bail fundraiser at the Reading Fall Street Faire.  All BAIL proceeds help pay for disability awareness education in the Reading schools this year.    

Can I count on your help?  I hope you can give generously to this important program.  All donations are tax-deductible.

It's easy to help:

Mail your check payable to Understanding Disabilities, Inc. to 
      Understanding Disabilities
      PO Box 465, Reading, MA  01867
      Include an email address for a tax receipt.
Donate Now to UD  
Please note "Heather Leonard" in the Jailee field on page 2.
Come by the Jail to visit me!
We'll let you know the time and location soon.
Thank you for supporting disability awareness in the schools. And thank you for helping bail me out of jail!