Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Free Play or Tiger Mother? Can't be both...

Like dieting, parenting has trends.  You can point to different eras and see the trends of each era.  I remember my mother calmly putting my brother, ten years younger than me, into time out.  "What on earth is time out?"  I asked sullenly.  I had been spanked for the same offense.  She explained the process to the sullen tween in a time before the term tween was even thought of.  Now, I understand time outs, tweens, naughty chairs and spots, positive discipline, point systems, I could go on.  Parents embraced Ferber as quickly as a dieter threw away their bread and fried their bacon to join the Atkins revolution.  There is always a new trend, and it's impossible as an informed parent to not be effected by them.  This is not to say that all parents change their lives based on the next parenting craze, but I think all of us are aware of them and gravitate to the trends that have something in common with the parenting style we have, or maybe even wish we had.

So what do you do when trends that make sense to you conflict?

Just a few days ago, the New York Times printed an article entitled The Movement to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum.  Many parents (myself included) said "Yes!  An excuse for my messy house!" and "Of course children should play!"  Now, a book entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua discusses the opposite parenting strategy.  Amy Chua has written a memoir of parenting of her daughters, now teenagers, in which she has harshly driven them to be the best.  At 14, her older daughter played piano at Carnegie Hall.  Both daughters get A or A+ in everything.  An A- is a failure.  Yet in order to do that, each day they practiced their instrument for 3 hours, there were no play dates, sleep overs, or any extracurricular activities of their choice.  (Wall Street Journal article here)  While many of Amy Chua's techniques are beyond what we would do, our house also values excellence.  My husband and I work hard and we expect our children to as well.

The problem I see with these two differing views is not necessarily that there isn't room for a degree of both in a house but that our education system seems to push between these two views as well.  There are so many questions when thinking of this: How do we have both?  Should we have both?  How do we push our children toward excellence without turning the school district into Chinese mothers?  Should we expect the schools to be Chinese mothers (as many Charter schools are) and frown upon the free play parents?  Or, should we change how we measure excellence to include happiness and life satisfaction?  The list of questions could go on...

Where do you see yourself in this spectrum?  Do you see yourself moving in the spectrum as your children get older?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Vacation ideas

It's that time of year again.  No, I'm not talking about the lights and wrapping paper and pageantry, I'm talking about school vacation.  There are a wealth of things to do in our area, but how can we take advantage of all of those things without effecting our own wealth?  Here are some ideas, feel free to add your own in the comments section.

In house:
1.  Bake:  We spent yesterday creating felt gift tag/ ornaments for everyone and their brother (they were fun) and today we're doing our first gingerbread house.  Shockingly, it's turning out.  Here's the recipe I used:  Kids had a blast yesterday picking out fun things to decorate the house.
2. Craft:  There are more holiday/ winter crafts than you can shake a stick at.  Our big craft was cutting pieces of  felt into mitten and elf shoe shapes, then we used Tacky glue to attach a loop of yarn, I wrote people's names in puff paint and then the kids went crazy glitzing it out with little tchotchke.  They are adorable and a good time was had by all.
- Go traditional with crafts, there is nothing more fun than taking popcycle sticks and making sleds, snowman fences (like above).  Just make sure to have lots of newspaper!
- Other crafts that we do this time of year is keepsake kind of crafts.  Each year we trace the kids hands and they decorate them.  We laminate them and attach them with ribbon and then each year use them for a tree decoration.  This is a great grandparent gift as well.  We also make end of the year little books, where the kids fill out a little survey on themselves, ages, teachers, favorites, etc.  Then they draw a picture of themselves.
- Make a time capsule.  This is one of my favorite things to do.  Find a box, decorate it and put in some of the big headlines from right now, have the kids put what they love into the box (photos or list), I also will take a ribbon to their height and put that in the box.  Even a year later, they are fun to look at!

Around town:
- New York State Museum:  I know, you've been there 1000 times.  But, this is one of my favorite museums of all time because even the non-kind friendly exhibits are kid proofed enough so the kids can really interact with this museum in any way they choose.  I find we can go back over and over and still not get enough: Plus, on Tuesday 12/28 from 4- 9 is their annual Kwanzaa celebration.
- Albany Art Room: It's not super cheap, but the experience that the kids have there is worth every dime.  I highly recommend getting the kids a canvas and letting them explore being an artist with the real stuff.
- Public Bath #2: We don't know how long it will be open, but it's a super cheap indoor pool worth checking out:
- The Library: The Albany public libraries have amazing programs all week long.  You could spend your whole week there:
- Albany Institute of History and Art: There are neat classes there for not too much during the week for kids.  While this isn't the cheapest option around, it's still a neat one:
- CMOST: There are amazing programs all week at CMOST (Monday, the Science of a snowflake, Wednesday create a Kalidescope), most are free for members or $2 with admission for non-members.  Registration is required:
- Steamer 10 is also a wonderful place and a great way to have your children appreciate the theater:

Outdoor fun:
Okay, most things depend on snow, but sometimes a little goes a long way:
- Ice Skating: Swinburne is great and you can rent skates:
If you have skates, the sky's the limit!  Go for a spin on Buckingham Pond-
- Cross country skiing: If you have your own skiis, you can ski anywhere really.  We love to go for spins at Ridgefield, but most parks are great for a spin around with proper snowfall.  If you don't have your own skiis, check out one of the local ski places:
- Have a 4th grader?  Take advantage of the downhill ski passport:
- Go for a hike: of course, there's 5 rivers, you can also rent snowshoes from them for only $5:
If you haven't been to Christman Preserve, it's worth it (although a warning that one trail might be trecharous when it's icy- it's easy to avoid though and most of the hike is easy and beautiful):
Peebles Island State Park is also a fantastic place:
If you haven't been to the Pine Bush center, it's worth it!

That's off the top of my head, I'm sure I've missed a bunch, are you doing anything fun or did you do anything fun?

Have fun!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Some fun websites

Okay, so it's really just one fun website.  It's early in the morning and the other websites have left my brain!

Possibly you have heard of on NPR.  It's where you can adopt a word that is in danger of being cut out of the Oxford English Dictionary.  I clicked on it for kicks.  The kids loved it even more than I did.  The word we adopted, veprecose, an adjective meaning "full of prickly shrubs or bushes."  Easy to use at MMS:  Andrew's friend lost his shoe when we cut through the veprecose garden bed.

I've injected more coffee and have come up with more sites!

If you are looking beyond good 'ol try going to NASA's site:  Regardless of your child's age, NASA has something your child will be interested in and love.  If you have a child that is obsessed with space, like I do, then this is an amazing site, but it is such a good site that you may create an obsession.  In the world of Pokemon and Bratz dolls, maybe that's not such a bad thing!

To continue with the national theme, check out the Smithsonian website:  Like the Smithsonian museums, you can really explore anything from art to archeology to astronomy.  Great for a wide variety of ages.

Do you have any fun and educational websites you love?  Put them in the comment section.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Results are in

A hearty congratulations to: Alex Streznewski, Felicia Green, and Edith Leet who will be serving on the Albany Board of Education.  A big thank you to Barry Walston and Wayne Morris for running and for their commitment to the children of Albany.

Edith, who came in third, will continue to serve on the Board of Education immediately.  Alex and Felicia will begin their service in January.  Below are the results from last night from the Board of Elections website.

          (VOTE FOR)  3
           James K. Lembo.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     4,805   10.96
           Wayne P. Morris  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     6,688   15.25
           Edith Leet .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     7,274   16.59
           Barry D. Walston .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     6,732   15.35
           Felicia Green .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .     8,830   20.13
           Alexandra Jane Streznewski.  .  .  .  .     8,989   20.50
           WRITE-IN.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .       539    1.23

According to the newspaper this morning, 51% of Albanians voted in this election which is a large amount of people voting.  Thank you to everyone who voted and thank you for your care and involvement in this election.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Please look to the blog archive on the side to find all candidate questionnaires!

Thank you to everyone who has come to look at our filled out candidate questionnaires.  Another thank you to all of the candidates for filling out our questionnaires.  Please click on each candidate's name in the blog archive to find the candidate questionnaires.  A reminder that this is a blog, each candidate's questionnaire was posted in the order received.  We do not endorse candidates, but we hope in providing this information we can help inform the voters.  

Again, the people who are running are:

Felicia Green
Alexandra Streznewski
Wayne Morris
Edith Leet
Barry Walston

Please keep in mind these upcoming events:

Tuesday, October 26 - NAACP Candidate Forum from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Albany Public Library at Washington Avenue

Thursday, October 28 - League of Women Voters Candidate forum from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. at the Albany High School Cafeteria on Washington Avenue 

Upcoming School Board Candidate Events

Here are some upcoming candidate forums:

Tuesday, October 26 - NAACP Candidate Forum from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Albany Public Library at Washington Avenue

Thursday, October 28 - League of Women Voters Candidate forum from 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. at the Albany High School Cafeteria on Washington Avenue 

Here are the order of candidates on the ballot:

1 - James Lembo (a reminder that Mr. Lembo has withdrawn and has asked us not to vote for him)
2 - Wayne Morris
3 - Edith Leet
4 - Barry Walston
5 - Felicia Green
6 - Alexandra Jane Streznewski

Friday, October 22, 2010

Questionnaire: Mr. Barry Walston

Mr. Barry Walston's completed questionnaire.
Further information about Barry is available at:

Montessori Community Council
1.                  Meet the Candidate Questionnaire
Why did you decide to run for Albany City School Board?

I am running for a seat on the ACSB because I believe in quality public education, I am a tax payer of twenty-one plus years and I was brought up in a family of educators, I have had positive relationships with the school district and have been a citizen in the Albany community for than twenty-five years, I believe in giving back and being part of the solution. 

2.      What qualifies you to be on the Albany City School Board?  Do you have any unique qualifications that set you apart from other candidates?

 What qualifies me to be on ACSB is my commitment to quality public education, my investment in the Albany community, my ongoing support for District students/families, and last but not least, my willingness to serve the public. 

What sets me aside from the other candidates is that I am a member of the population segment that is most adversely impacted by educational deficits/disparities. In addition, I am a product of public education and a social worker. Consequently, I will bring a unique perspective to the Board that sets me apart in that I have a culturally competent understanding of the students in the District's system and I am proficient in using macroanalysis as well as a microanalysis in finding solutions to problems.

3.                  Parents in each Albany city school watch as their neighbors and children’s friends leave the schools for Charter Schools, Private Schools, and other districts.  What concrete steps can be taken to prevent the loss of students and resources from the ACSD to these competitors?

It is simple. We must IMPROVE the public education system and provide QUALITY education for ALL students. In so doing, we will attract and maintain students in the district. Parents want quality education for their children. Private schools do not have a monopoly on "quality education." Parents will buy into quality education whether it resides in public or private schools.  I will promote partnering with significant stakeholders in the community willing to reinvest, revitalize, and restructure the way the District does business in order to effect a quality school system. We have to align our curriculum with NY State standards, hold teachers/administrators accountable, continue to enhance professional development of teachers, hold parents/adult caregivers accountable and expect the BEST from all students. Finally, we must create learning environments that promote academic/social achievement.

4.                  How would you work with City government and other community stakeholders to make Albany more attractive to homeowners and parents as a permanent option for their families?

Partnership with the City is important. The City, community and school benefit from a quality educational system. Businesses and industries expect schools to graduate students with the appropriate skills, knowledge, and abilities to meet their employment demands; they also provide jobs for parents and family members. Cities are evaluated on the basis of the quality of life they afford---including their schools as well as social and recreational amenities. City governments strive to attract businesses and industries to enhance employment and social opportunities for their citizenry.  Schools are an integral part of the attraction equation. Providing tax incentives for teachers/homeowners as the City already does with other professions, while simultaneously improving the quality of the educational program provided by the public school district, will benefit all stakeholders. When stakeholders perceive the mutual benefits that accrue to them relative to improving the educational system and are engaged in the decision-making and solutions process in meaningful ways, Albany will become more attractive to homeowners and parents as a permanent option for their families.

5.                  While publicly, there is a perception of failures for the ACSD, there are many successful programs and schools that families look forward to sending their children to.  While everyone values these programs, they are often targeted for cuts, making them less effective.  During a time of budget reductions, how do you intend to support existing successful programs in schools, and continue to bring in new programs in schools that need them?  When you do need to cut programs, what will be done to fill the voids that follow?

The biggest challenge facing the Albany City School District (ACSD) is improving school performance by doing more with less. Reducing the tax burden for taxpayers will further reduce needed fiscal resources to effect programs and changes that will improve school performance. The school board alone cannot solve this problem; it is a problem whose solution must come from the community and the Board.  Consequently, it will be necessary to work with various groups and stakeholders that make up the community in order to find solutions. For example, if it means cutting programs to solve the problem, the community (families, businesses, industries, and other stakeholders) need to be engaged in the process of determining what the community is willing to give up. If programs must be cut, the District should first evaluate the effectiveness of all of its programs and propose cutting those that are least effective. To fill the voids precipitated by budget cuts, the District will need to look to leverage resources of local community groups, business, industry, and colleges and universities to support successful programs, attract new programs and fill voids created by budget cuts. In addition, the District should redouble its efforts to secure discretionary grant funding from public and private resources to support new programs and expand successful programs. I

6.                  The budget process in the ACSD has been a particularly painful one in recent years.  Often, to streamline the process, items are lumped together in budget lines.  While this makes sense for some items, for others, this has the effect of drastically changing a program without involving the school stakeholders.  How will you balance the need for a streamlined process with transparency?

I would encourage an open process and would make every effort as a board member to involve stakeholders through town hall meetings, meetings at community centers, churches, etc.  I have observed that current superintendent and current Board make concerted efforts to be inclusive and transparent and accessible.

7.                  What will you do to ensure children’s safety not only at school but getting to and from school?

School safety is an important issue that starts at home. Parents and families need to be engaged as stakeholders in order to ensure safety in schools and in the community. Parental education and parental support groups focused on safety and reducing violence should be promoted through community and faith based organizations.  At the same time, it will be important for the City to provide safe social, recreational outlets and work opportunities for youths in the community. First, I would reinforce the policies that already exist within the district and would act proactively to promote violence prevention and remain vigilant and responsive to issues and concerns that might arise in the schools and in the community. Additionally, I would keep the community involved on every level and leverage community/civic organizations that are already involved in reducing violence and disruptive behaviors in the district.

8.                  Parent involvement is an important part of every child’s education.  How will you encourage parents to be more involved? 

Critical and Key!  This is a significant issue and is an important plank in my platform. I maintain that parent/adult involvement is ESSENTIAL to the academic success of all children. I would want to develop and implement a strategic long-range plan to create a system of traditional and non-traditional engagement of parents in the schooling process because research has shown that greater parental involvement significantly enhances learning for students.
We know that increasing parental (adult)/family (PAF) involvement is key to student achievement. Also, parental involvement has been touted for years as a very important predictor of student achievement in schools. In recent surveys, also, teachers focus on the need to increase parental involvement. Strengthening parents' roles in the learning of their children has been identified by teachers as an issue that should receive the highest public education policy priority.
Moreover, a 1993 Metropolitan Life survey of teachers found that a large majority believed that the nation's schools could be improved by the federal government if they encouraged parents to be more involved in their children's education (Richardson, 1993).
It still is difficult for effective PAF involvement and not easily accomplished without understanding obstacles and how to overcome them. It is important to redefine parental involvement, to identify types of effective involvement and to identify barriers to PAF involvement. Only then can we succeed in overcoming those barriers and increasing the quality of PAF.
There has to be a new paradigm in defining “parental involvement” by re-examining characteristics such as: parent focus, family, school, eager parents, teacher/administrators, agendas, and the deficit view of urban families –

to family focus, community support/home/neighborhood settings, hard-to-reach families, family priorities and emphasis on inherent strengths of families.

New beliefs about parents and families support the notion that all families have strengths; parents/adults/families (PAF) can learn new techniques; PAF can be empowered, and have important perspectives about their children; in addition, PAF care about their children and lastly cultural differences are both valuable and valid and should be honored.

9.                  What are your thoughts on the high school restructuring?

AHS is too large. I think creating smaller learning environments using existing space with the input of all stakeholders will be important in restructuring for school improvement.

10.              Being on the School Board is a large, unpaid time commitment.  There is often a high turn over for School Board members because of this, are you aware of this and what have you done to ensure against it for you? 

I am aware of the time commitment and I am committed to the students, to the families, to the communities and to the improving education for students. Being on the Board will afford me an opportunity to be part of the solution. My employment history and long history of service on several community boards speaks to my commitment.