Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Thoughts on the New Before School Program

85% of students in our school district qualify for free or reduced lunch. See:

The child poverty rate in Allentown is more than double the national average. And the USA has the highest child poverty rate of all industrialized nations. 1 in 4 children live in households that are considered "food insecure." And that number keeps growing. Kids cannot learn if they are hungry. Free breakfast and free lunch are offered to all students in the ASD. It's necessary. I've seen the hunger, it's real. Breakfast is important, but I don't support the ASD's new "Start Your Day Right" before school program for several reasons, mainly because a new administrator was hired at a salary of 84k while 247 teachers received pink slips, and that's just wrong. This new administrator, Joyce Marin, is the former Allentown Economic Development Director. Some people say her position was created as a political favor to Mayor Pawlowski. She's a nice lady, but not qualified. She has a background in business, an MBA. That does not qualify her to run school programs. As an educator, I am not qualified to advise hedge fund managers, so what makes her qualified to advise educators?

300 community volunteers will be needed to run the program, because, well, it takes a village! And volunteers will need to get 3 background checks (the district will reimburse the $53.00 cost and help with all the paperwork), plus a TB test (also provided by district), plus attend training sessions. This is an unrealistic expectation. And how will volunteers know how to manage large groups of kids or handle special needs, or discipline? It is unrealistic to expect parents in the ASD to volunteer. It's also very nervy to ask for volunteers during tough economic times when so many people have lost jobs, or are working 2-3 jobs just to get by. This just shows how out of touch the administration is with reality. This program may look great on paper, but will be difficult to implement. Hey, they even have a logo!

The administration sees this program as a "fabulous opportunity" for community to get involved and support education! What kind of dream world do these people exist in? There is an organization called the PTA, which has always provided volunteer opportunities. I have been a PTA volunteer, for many years. I know from experience that it is extremely difficult to recruit parents to volunteer in the ASD due to work schedules, and because some feel intimidated, don't speak English, or they just don't care. Right now, according to the ASD website they have recruited only 50 volunteers, and they will need 300 by Sept. 2!

This new sunshiny fresh experiment, along with a new admin. position, were created mainly because of Dr. Z's changes to the school bell schedule, which have caused a conflict for many parents, and also because they think that this program will help make up for cutting the phys ed and arts programs. Elementary students will now be arriving at 8:45, which is 45 minutes later than they are used to. Teachers will arrive at 8 am, and have their prep time before students arrive. So, parents who go to work early will need to do something with their children before school starts. The geniuses came up with this grandiose, complicated plan which incorporates food, fitness, fun, and even more test prep! Hey, we can align it with Michele Obama's "Let's Get Movin" program, since 40% of ASD kids are overweight, and recess has been cut in order to spend more time on test prep. It all aligns so nicely with "resiliency" and "standards aligned systems" and "rigor" and all the other corporate nonsense. Only thing is, a voluntary program in a high poverty district is not a very good idea.

Here's a more realistic idea which is backed by research, has already been implemented in some schools in the ASD (especially early childhood centers), and is gaining popularity across the country. Breakfast in the Classroom. It ensures that all students are fed, it guarantees better student performance. It helps disadvantaged kids feel comfortable and secure because they get to share food, and socialize with their classmates and teacher. It's educational because they learn about nutrition and manners. It's easy. It only takes 10 minutes to serve, once all students have arrived at school. The benefits are enormous. Breakfast is always served in the classroom during testing.

I know my solution is not a before school program, but I am presenting it because it is very unlikely that "Start Your Day Right" will actually happen without volunteers, and it's very important that kids eat breakfast. Breakfast in the classroom for all students is a good idea.

UPDATE 8/29: According to the ASD website, Start Your Day Right will not start until Sept. 19th. So, apparently they need more time to get volunteers, but they will be going ahead with the program.


Mrs. Dottie said...

Since the ASD plans on going ahead with this program, I wonder if it will be on a much smaller scale? Also, the "Newcomer Academy" has only 25 students enrolled. They closed Midway Manor, a successful early childhood center with 300 students, in order to start an experimental school for high school immigrant students. Think about the cost of that renovation! Wow, what a waste of money. What a mess.

Thank goodness for competent and caring teachers in the ASD. They will have to provide a safe and stable learning environment for the children, despite the incompetence of administration and school board.

Anonymous said...

Another reason for "Start Your Day Right" is that the district has to make arrangements for the younger students who are walked to school by older siblings since those older students will now be starting earlier at 7:30 am. The new staggered schedule is supposed to save money but they are spending money on this new program to fill the time gap. Is there really a savings? And how about the high cost of the Zahorchak buy out? What a waste. And now they are hiring another consultant.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Hi thanks for commenting. Good points. The waste is unbelievable. And I am "all for" programs that benefit ASD students, but I won't support the unethical decisions of school board and administration. As a former full time ASD art teacher,I chose to return to the ASD as a substitute. I could easily substitute in Parkland, it would be a lot easier, but I don't want to. I volunteer with the PTA and chair programs, attend board meetings, because I believe our students deserve the same high quality education as suburban students. I don't need someone from the business world, who has no children and no experience in a classroom to tell me or any other tireless volunteer about the importance of volunteering.

And I just read the Morning Call's Q&A with acting super Mayo, and I have to say that it's just more bullshit. When I went to substitute teacher training the
head of human resources did not even know what SAS stood for, but was telling us to get on board with Dr. Z's great ideas. He told us to wear suits and look professional. As if the ASD students are going to treat you better just because you look like a business person. What a joke. The administrators are clueless, completely out of touch with reality.

Anonymous said...

I just want to point out that at the ASD website school breakfast is portrayed as a nutritious meal but the breakfast has always been just cold cereal and milk. Will they now be offering fresh fruit, eggs, meat, oatmeal, pancakes?

Mrs. Dottie said...

Excellent question. If they really cared about the kids they would offer organic food donated by local vendors or businesses. Joyce has some connections there. The school lunch is pretty bad too. Not very nutritious, and not enough food for some kids. Why don't they overhaul the food too? Where are the initiatives for higher food standards and playground equipment standards? The playground at Muhlenberg Elementary is horrible, and unsafe.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out that 1 in 5 ASD students has asthma. Have they considered the needs of asthmatic children? Any physical activities will have to be adapted for handicapped students as well. I think this program should be run by qualified and certified teachers.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks for commenting. Yes, I agree. All educational programs should be run by professional educators. And certified school nurses should always be available at school to help asthmatic children. Diabetes is another health problem in the ASD, and school nurses are trained to address dietary needs of those children.