Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Michelle Obama, Congress Battle Over School Lunches

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Michelle ObamaChildren may already be out of school for summer, but their school lunches can’t catch a break.

First Lady Michelle Obama is fighting back after Republicans in Congress introduced a bill that would let schools opt-out of nutrition standards set in place in 2010. As part of a $143.5 billion Agriculture Department spending bill, schools will be given an extra year to comply with federal health standards that promote fruits, veggies, and whole grains and limit fat and salt.

“It gives schools an opt-out saying you don’t have to participate in the school lunch program because it’s hard,” Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of California told CNN. “Well, we don’t tell kids, ‘Look you don’t have to take math if it’s hard or science if it’s hard. You don’t have do P.E. if it’s hard.’”

Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. Here are 25 ways to liven up your kid’s school lunch!

Last week, the healthy school lunch efforts suffered a setback when Democrats failed to get enough votes in committee to strip the language about school lunches from the proposed bill. This means the bill was sent to the House of Representatives for full consideration.

And the First Mom hasn’t been silent on the issue, either. Mrs. Obama often stays away from legislative issues, but when it comes to our kids, she has let her voice be heard.

“Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches?” Obama wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last week. “You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn’t make much sense. Yet we’re seeing the same thing happening again with these new efforts to lower nutrition standards in our schools.”

“Our children deserve so much better than this,” she continued. “Even with the progress we have made, one in three children in this country is still overweight or obese.”

She has my support in this fight.

This isn’t about politics. Children have the right to the pursuit of happiness, and we can’t just sit by and watch that pursuit cut short due to preventable health issues.

As of now, 90 percent of schools already comply with these school-lunch standards. Standards that stop the promotion and sale of junk food in schools. Standards that require schools to provide REAL veggies and fruits instead of making it optional. (Even Elmo is helping the cause!)

In February, federal health authorities reported a 43 percent drop over the past decade in obesity among children ages 2-5.

“This generation is now entering our school system,” Executive Director of Let’s Move! and White House staffer Sam Kass said. “Our schools must be a place that really continue to foster and support their health and wellbeing, and that’s what this is all about.”

And while the argument can be made that the $10 billion of taxpayers’ money going into school lunches every year is excessive, just compare that to the $190 billion taxpayers shell out every year to treat obesity-related conditions.

But the fight for healthier kids is more than dollars and cents. A recent Atlantic article revealed most kids in a Los Angeles’ school system did not take a veggie from the lunch line, instead choosing a processed alternative.

If we know children who have the choice would pick sugary, processed food over healthier ones, why would we give them the option? As pointed out in the article, school cafeterias tend to give children what they want, and not what they need.

We are finally starting to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. Why take a step backwards now?

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How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

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College is Just Around the Corner

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Last night I asked my tennis partner, whose daughter is a junior at a private college in the Northeast, how much he was spending on her education. He estimated around $60,000 per year. If that sounds like a shocking figure, just imagine what college will cost in 18 years, when your baby is ready to attend. It’s enough to freeze many new parents into inaction. That’s natural: If you can’t envision saving enough to pay for college, why even try—especially when there are so many other, more-pressing expenses? Besides, you can always worry about college later.

Well, that thinking is wrong. College savings needs to be a priority as soon as your child is born. Socking away even $100 a month could add up to almost $50,000 (assuming a healthy 8 percent return) by the time your newborn is ready to leave the nest. Granted, that’s still only a small chunk of the big bill, but it could make all the difference to your child when the time comes. Keep in mind that you don’t have to fund college entirely on your own. Your could be eligible for financial aid and your child could earn scholarships and be eligible for student loans and work-study programs. So opening a college fund—early—is a vital first step.

That’s the idea behind National 529 College Savings Day, which is set for May 30. It’s designed to raise awareness about the importance of saving for higher education and the many advantages of 529 plans, which are the best way to save for college. This map shows what’s happening in your state. One example: Virginia is offering a $50 match for new accounts as well as a drawing to win a $2,500 bonus for your child’s future.

I won’t bore you with the details of how to choose the right 529 plan or open an account. You can read about it here  and here as well as watch this video.

Save for College
Save for College
Save for College

But I would like to offer these suggestions:

Pick a plan with tax advantages. Granted, not every state offers a credit or a deduction. But if yours does, trust me, you’ll be grateful come April 15.

Set up an automatic deduction. You won’t miss the money as much if it’s being taken out of your paycheck and will be less likely to forestall a contribution from your checking account if you’re forced to budget for it.

Get Grandma and Grandpa to help. Your parents and in-laws want their grandkids to go to college. So don’t be shy about asking them to contribute to your account or open their own in your child’s name. And at birthdays and the holidays, suggest that they give a small present and write a check for his 529.

I’m lucky: My parents believe strongly in education and have been contributing to my kids’ accounts since they came into the world. Even with their efforts, and ours, it’s unlikely our 529s will cover more than half of their tuition. Still, that’s a darn good start.

Create a monthly budget with our spreadsheet.

Baby with mini laptop via Shutterstock

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Are Schools Bullying Kids Over High-Stakes Testing?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Last week, my 9-year-old endured five days of testing, thanks to a government who doesn’t believe her teachers can do their job, and a school that desperately needs the funding that they will (hopefully) get if the kids filled in those little bubbles correctly. And so, the school devoted hours to test strategy and practice tests, and sent my little perfectionist home with high-pressure messages that sent her over the edge. We considered refusing to let her take the test—here in New Jersey, unlike New York, there’s no official “opt out” policy, but we still have the legal right to refuse. But we didn’t feel courageous enough to do it, and my straight A+ daughter desperately wanted to boost her NJASK scores, in the hopes that she could finally qualify for her school’s gifted and talented program. (That’s another whole story!)

But what was most shocking to me was when I started hearing stories about how some of the schools handled the children who refused to take the test. (And let’s face it—in most cases, that was the parents’ decision, not the kids.) While some kids were able to hang out in the library and read, or help out in the kindergarten classes, others were forced to stay in the test room and “sit and stare.” They couldn’t read or work on homework, but had to sit and stare at the wall for a few hours. Others were sent to the principal’s office, as if they’d committed some crime. In some high schools, the administrators said the children could be written up for insubordination. And at my daughter’s school, the principal threatened the one child who refused to take the test that she would be excluded from a “NJASK dance” they were having during school hours, that is sponsored by the school.

If other children did these sorts of things to these kids, they’d call it bullying. But apparently, in an effort to try to ensure that students take these tests, the school administrators felt they could use any means necessary, including abuse. (And let’s face it—forcing a third grader to sit silently for a couple of hours without allowing them to read, doodle, draw or do something engaging is pretty darned abusive.) And I’m sure there are parents who caved and let their children take the test after all, rather than make them spend several unfruitful hours over several days engaged in this battle of wills. There’s a point where fighting for what’s right isn’t worth the price to your kid.

Next year, our state switches over to the PARCC tests, a series of tests that’s supposed to make the NJASK seem like a walk in the park. I’m sure that more parents will be exercising their option to refuse next year—which puts even more kids in the line of fire.

Tell me: Did you opt out or refuse to let your child take high-stakes tests? Why or why not? How did your school handle it?

How’s your little one doing in school? Keep track of her progress using our free progress report.

Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries

Image: Mighty Sequoia Studio/

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‘But Why Are They Only Taking Girls?’

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

By Stella Bugbee from The Cut

“But why are they only taking girls?” my daughter asks me as she curls up on my bed in a tank top and shorts. We’d been out all day enjoying Mother’s Day in Brooklyn.

“They don’t want them to have an education.”

“Why only the girls?” She’s hung up on this detail of the story. She’s a fiercely motivated third grader at a progressive elementary school where she plays soccer and piano alongside her twin brother. She cannot imagine being denied something because she’s a girl. And sometimes, as a mother, I find myself hoping that she will never have to imagine it. The story of the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria broke nearly a month ago, and since then I’ve been — guiltily — relieved to avoid discussing it with her. As news stories go, this one is too terrible to bear.

I want to shield her. But, curious as ever, she’s put me on the spot. I do my best to explain.

“They don’t believe that girls should learn about things like science and math and social studies,” I say. Is this the right kind of detail? Will connecting the girls’ world to hers help her understand the story, or just scare her?

“So they just took them from their school? No one stopped them?” It’s a reasonable question. Her voice seems more alarmed now; she sits up. I sit down behind her, pulling her long messy hair into a ponytail.

“The men who took them had guns. They came in the middle of the night. And no, no one stopped them. The people in the town were too afraid.” She thinks about that. I stay quiet.

“Where did they take them?”

“We don’t know. No one knows. But many people in the world are looking for them and they are alive.” I say this with confidence, although I do not believe enough people are looking for them.

“The men might have killed them?” She turns around to me, widens her eyes.

I want to protect her — but the irony, of course, is that Boko Haram also says they want to protect girls. Everybody wants to protect girls from knowledge, even me here in Brooklyn, fretting about how to shelter my daughter from the details of this nightmarish kidnapping, from the fact that there is a world where girls have no freedom.

“What will happen to them?”

“We’re not sure. Boko Haram said they would be married off to Muslim men.”


“Possibly sold or used to negotiate for the release of Boko Haram’s imprisoned members.”

Do I tell her that one of the girls who escaped by running into the jungle said she would rather die than be taken? I do. I dole out the facts slowly. She listens.

“Don’t worry,” I say finally. “This won’t happen here.” With as much certainty as I can muster, I tell her that girls deserve to know everything.

More from The Cut

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Pregnancy Myths: What Should You Believe?
Pregnancy Myths: What Should You Believe?
Pregnancy Myths: What Should You Believe?

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Tags: | Categories: Big Kids, Education, Must Read, News, Parenting, Safety

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Bring Back Our Girls: The Nigerian School Abduction

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

On April 15, dozens of gunmen stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, and abducted more than 200 students who were asleep in their dormitories. They are still missing. This afternoon, Girl Rising and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girl initiative hosted a Call to Action Google hangout to discuss what is going on and how we can help.

What is the latest information about what’s happening?

There is no consensus on exactly how many girls have been kidnapped, but we know that over 200 girls were taken to an unknown location three weeks ago. The Nigerian president does not have much information, and the authorities have not been forthcoming. There had been a false statement that the girls had been rescued, and since then the military has been cautious about giving information. There have been rumors that some of them have died, have gotten ill, were married, or are out of the country.

This mass kidnapping is not an isolated incident. Though the problem is just now gaining international attention, girls have been getting kidnapped for months. In fact, eight more girls were kidnapped yesterday.

Who are these girls?

The girls who have been kidnapped are truly extraordinary. Before the incident, they were taking exams that would have lead them to a university, unlike most girls in Northeast Nigeria who are not able to go to school at all. Instead, girls typically get married starting at age 12 and 13. Only 3 percent of girls make it to college.

When girls go to school, they get married, have kids later, and live healthier, safer lives. According to Girl Rising, educating girls can break cycles of poverty in just one generation. Now, even more Nigerian parents are skeptical about sending their girls — and boys — to school because it is so dangerous.

How can I help?

Girls Rising and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girl initiative identified 3 easy ways to help aid the situation in Nigeria right now.

  1. Raise your voice on social media. The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag has gone viral globally on Twitter, and you can help continue the movement to get the story out. Tweet or post on Facebook using that hashtag or change your avatar to spread the word. Your impact can truly make a difference. In fact, CNN has sent more reporters cover the kidnapping in Nigeria because of the social media response.
  2. Sign a petition. There is a petition that currently has over 300,000 signatures. Help it reach the one million mark.
  3. Contribute financially. There are several organizations that are raising money to help. One such group is Catapult, a start-up advocacy group for girls’ and women’s rights. You can help them reach their goal of raising $25,000 toward the cause.

For more information on the efforts to help bring back these Nigerian girls, check out Girl Rising’s action kit.

Read our tips on how to raise confident girls, see what career your daughter will have, and shop kids’ backpacks.

What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School

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