Saturday, April 28, 2007

Yes, We Have Some Bananas

To: Food Services
From: Overworked Cafeteria Monitors

Subject: Bananas

Please don't put bananas on the school lunch menu any more. Do you know what hormone fueled, overly informed 5th grade boys who have less than 20 days of school do when given a banana? Let us just say that turning the fruit into a gun was the least offensive of the activities done at lunch time today. As for what else they did, well have you ever seen a demonstration of safe sex? Enough said.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Net Nannie No Habla Espanol

My district, like so many other public school systems has internet filters in place. They are supposed to protect the youth from seeing sights unfit for innocent eyes and prevent the employees from shopping on E-bay or indulging in on betting when they should be working.

Our IT department switched to what was supposed to be a new and better filtering system than the one we used the prior school year. Our IT department is always switching to something that is supposed to be new and better. A year later, they decide it isn’t really new and better and switch to something else. It’s their version of The Search for the Holy Grail.

For some reason this years new and better version blocks access to author’s websites and any number of other sites I want to use to illustrate a lesson, yet lets the most prurient of e-mails sail right on in. We’re bombarded daily with offers to increase the size of a specific male organ. Considering that, the majority of elementary school teachers are women these aren’t of any particular interest to anyone.

Today, one of our students, a second grader who is one of the Assistant Principal’s frequent flyers managed to pull up a very graphic porn site in the lab. He did it deliberately, he knew exactly what he was doing and it was obvious he knew the URL and was familiar with the contents of the site.

Of course the first thing that came to mind was “how did he get through the filters?”. It turned out that while the child is bi-lingual Net Nannie isn’t. Child typed in the URL for a Spanish Porn Site. Wanting to prove it, I made sure the library was empty and while my assistant guarded the door I typed in the the only inappropriate Spanish term I knew. Up popped some sites that had no educational or moral value at all. It was apparent that they were frequented by people who had great interest in a certain male organ.

Once we figured that out, the next thought that came to mind is, who is showing the child this site and just what is going on at home? Scary, isnt’ it? The counselor is investigating.

The last month of school is always a trial but this year appears to be starting out at a new low.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Dance

More of the Taks scores (The Test) arrived today. The 5th grade math . 93% passing! Third grade reading - 98% passing! 3rd grade math was equally impressive. Our last big hurdle is 5th grade science - D-Day or Test Day is this Thursday.

With a little luck - and a great deal of bone crushing work we'll be Exemplary again. Given our population and their mobility that is nothing short of miraculous.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The More You Feed Them, The More They Read

Fourth grade is one of those make or break grades. It becomes sadly apparent who has college potential and whose career will peak with the phrase “and do you want fries with that?”

It’s sad to think that one’s life path is already determined when a child reaches the ripe old age of 9. It’s not set in stone and we all do what we can to make sure the kids have options that don’t involve hamburgers or mops.

One thing we notice is that the enthusiasm for school, learning and reading often plummets. Fourth grade is when the curriculum moves from learning to read to reading for content and many low SES students really struggle with the switch.

After a round of appalling benchmark test scores a couple of 4th grade teachers and myself came up with the “Library Club” and the “Cafeteria Club”. Students who have been doing their reading homework may bring their trays to the library and enjoy lunch in semi civilized surroundings. They may decide where they will sit and who they will sit with. They don’t have to sit with their class – they can sit with friends in other 4th grade classes.

Students who haven’t kept up with their reading homework eat in the cafeteria and read once they have finished eating. We’ve had to assign books to some of them. They are very creative when it comes to offering excuses as to why they haven’t done their homework.

We use “AR Points” as our barometer and raise the bar by 5 points every 2 weeks. Good life lesson – you can’t rest on your laurels just because you have reached a goal. You have to strive for another one. Goal setting is another life skill low SES students need to practice.

It’s been interesting to watch the kids. Some keep on reading regardless (those are the kids on college track), others still offer myriad excuses and some are determined to avoid the cafeteria at all costs. The latter group has started reading – they may slip back into the cafeteria but they quickly read their way back to the library. These are the “bubble kids” – the ones that can go either way and these are the kids we try extra hard to keep on the right track.

The students are amazingly civilized. They enjoy the privilege of picking up their trays and walking out of the cafeteria and they really do behave themselves. I’ve taken to sitting with various groups and it’s fun to talk to them. We talk about food, books and occasionally I interject a lesson in table manners or polite conversation.

The Principal is happy – it’s good for the children & doesn’t cost a penny. The teachers are happy – homework is getting done. The cafeteria monitors are thrilled –the cafeteria isn’t nearly the Animal House it used to be. The kids love it- they feel important and special. I’m happy – I’m collaborating with the 4th grade team and the library is being an integral part of this collaboration. Best of all, the Benchmark scores are up!.