Friday, May 6, 2011

Spring break, college... the FUTURE

Angela Short
For some families, it may already seem as if spring break is in the distant past. But for others – specifically, those who participated in The Indiana Partnerships Center’s college tours – spring break represents the future.

That’s because several dozen young people and their families spent their breaks contemplating an exciting future in college and beyond. 

This was the third year that the center provided college tours, and I had the privilege of leading the trips to five Indiana campuses. Throughout the week, the energy and excitement from the parents and the students was amazing. 

We got an early start Monday, March 28. Very early. Fifty-four participants boarded a bus at 6:45 a.m. and headed to Vincennes University. Students guided us on a tour and engaged the group in a panel discussion about college life. Admissions and the financial department made presentations. Our families asked good questions to support their students. Lunch was provided and each student was given a T-shirt. The families were thrilled with the reception the school provided.

It was a hectic day, but we were reenergized when we returned to Indianapolis and were greeted by a WTHR-Channel 13 news crew, who interviewed families about their experiences.

The next day, the families gathered at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where we were met by Indianapolis Star reporter Will Higgins. He interviewed parents and students about the college tours, and the families discussed the importance of parents’ involvement. Once the tour got underway, the families were pleased with the personal attention provided by the folks at IUPUI.

On Wednesday, 43 participants headed to Anderson University, where admissions staff discussed the educational opportunities that a small college – this one with a Christian perspective – can provide. Several students guided us on a tour. Next we headed to Ball State University in Muncie, where several student ambassadors showcased the campus and its academic offerings and offered tips on how to make a successful transition into college. The adults were rewarded with BSU T-shirts after the presentation, but the real reward, they said, was how appreciated and empowered they felt.

Last but not least, we met at the Ivy Tech Community College campus in Indianapolis. This tour included an opportunity for families to meet with professors and engage in conversation about study skills needed to prepare for college. 

Throughout the week, many families expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to visit college campuses. One father, who had not gone to college, told me that the colleges really seemed to care and made him feel comfortable about leaving his daughter there. A mother said she felt confident that the colleges would take care of her daughter. A grandmother discussed her fears about letting her grandchildren leave home but said that the tours made her feel supported. The students shared their excitement of the possibilities of leaving home to gain independence and knowledge that can lead to a better life.  

Overall, this was a wonderful opportunity for all who participated in the college tours – including me. Parents, did you participate in the center’s tours or make a college visit on your own? I hope you’ll share your experiences here and explain why those who couldn’t join us this year should mark their calendars for next spring break. 

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child's school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Educational Legislation: Let's talk "vouchers"

Jackie Garvey
 For many years we've heard arguments for and against school vouchers. Now it appears Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels will get this legislation passed as part of his education reform agenda.
In this context, the term "vouchers" means that taxpayer money will be used for families of legislature-established income levels to pay tuition at private or parochial schools. The idea is to give choice to families who can't afford schools other than traditional and charter public schools.
Let's take a look at the major components of this legislation (there have been many changes and compromises following the House Democrats' protest/walkout to Illinois, and changes may continue):
  • - From June 2011 through June 2013, 22,500 scholarships will be awarded in grades one-12
  • - Students in grades one to eight may receive scholarships up to $4,500
  • - Scholarships will based on family income that cannot exceed 150 percent of the amount required for the student to qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program
  • - Schools must be state accredited and give ISTEP+
  • - Scholarships will be suspended at poor-performing nonpublic schools
  • - Taxpayers who donate to organizations that grant school scholarships can take tax credits.
The pros and cons are many.
Proponents say vouchers will level the education playing field for all students and will empower parents to ensure that their children have the same opportunities as those from more affluent families. They also think the competition will force poorly performing public schools to improve or close.
Critics say this legislation will siphon money away from financially strapped public schools. They worry it will stymie efforts to improve public schools and some argue that providing money to faith-based schools is a violation of the separation of church and state.
What do you think? If your child attends public school, would you seek a voucher so he or she could go to a private school? If you'd rather keep him in public school, how do you expect the environment to change if vouchers are available?
Maybe your child attends nonpublic school. What are your thoughts on vouchers? We want to hear from you.
Best regards,
The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child's school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Educations Woes: Is it the parents, school or the teachers?

A recent Indianapolis Star “Our Children, Our City” article headline infuriated me.

The headline – “THE PROBLEM IS PARENTS” – reportedly is a direct quote from a teacher.

It is understandable why this teacher would want to redirect the blame. As legislative bills that include merit pay for teachers are debated, hard working, dedicated teachers feel they are unfairly blamed for unsuccessful students. But to put blanket blame on parents is as wrong as placing the blanket blame on educators.

Yes, some, maybe many, parents are struggling. They struggle with challenges of day-to-day living, which affects parenting. I am executive director of the Indiana Partnerships Center. The IPC and several other local not-for-profits have been working hard to help and teach parents how to become partners with schools in the education of their children. We also work with schools to help schools effectively partner with parents. Sometimes the biggest challenge is understanding one another’s perspectives and not judging each other. We all want our children to be successful, healthy and ready for meaningful work and careers.

Two weeks ago, IPC, the Marion County Commission on Youth and the Indiana Youth Institute sponsored what we believe was a fresh, fun, informative and educational workshop for parents.

A panel of experts along with nearly 100 parents addressed the following questions in small groups. The only rule was that participants could not talk about their personal problems. They had to come at the questions from a more global perspective or at least a school-wide perspective.

Here are the questions. We’d love to read your answers to them. The information we collect will be used to inform our work and improve our programming.

  • How can schools more effectively communicate to families the ways to help students graduate on time and continue with post-secondary education?
  • What can principals do to create a welcoming environment for families?
  • What can parents do to partner with schools that would result in better attendance and overall achievement and attainment for our children?
  • What are policies and practices at your school that help students’ overall success? I.e.: discipline, attendance, homework, parent/teacher conferences?

Parents, we know raising children is the hardest yet most worthwhile journey you will ever take. Please let us know how to help as you navigate through your children’s education journey.

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The pursuit of the perfect college: About a mother and daughter

It was rainy and miserable, unseasonably cold. And then there was that desiccated squirrel corpse lying on the sidewalk.

Not pleasant conditions, of course, but were they sufficient reason to strike a campus from my daughter’s list of prospective colleges? Apparently so.

At first, I thought my daughter was hasty in nixing that institution so early in her college search. But I soon realized that sometimes intangible feelings are reason enough to whittle down the list in pursuit of the perfect college fit.

We visited a lot of campuses during her quest. The trips proved to be fun family outings. Sometimes we happened to be in the area of a school and figured, “why not?” In fact, we were on a planned visit to one campus when we learned about another just an hour away, and it was the second one that ended up high on her list.

That school, however, didn’t pass the Facebook test. Again, I wondered if she were rejecting it too easily. But she explained that she had joined a Facebook group of high school seniors who had been accepted by the school, and after a lot of conversations she realized that their interests did not jibe with hers.

Still another school sounded perfect for her when she researched it online. But when we visited, she found little to like. The classes were too big, the campus too impersonal.

She ultimately chose another college that we had visited on that same cold, rainy day. In her mind, the campus shone despite the overcast weather. Now, almost three-quarters of the way through her undergraduate education, she remains thrilled with her choice, enthusiastically ensconced on a campus where she sensed then – and feels today – that she belongs.

In fact, she’s a tour guide there, happily helping prospective students and their families decide if her beloved college is right for them.

Are you planning to make college visits soon? (Contact Angela Short at 205-2595 to learn more about The Indiana Partnerships Center’s trips for teens and their parents to Vincennes University Monday; Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis Tuesday; Anderson College and Ball State University Wednesday; and Ivy Tech Community College Thursday.)

When you go, encourage your teen to research prospective schools online, where he can learn about academics, the campus’s characteristics, requirements and expected test scores. And when you and your teen head out on college visits, keep an open mind about his feelings about the campuses. Even if his reasons seem arbitrary for keeping one on the list while rejecting another, your teen is more likely to succeed in college if he chooses a campus where he feels that he fits in and he wants to live for four important learning years.

Maybe you’ve already made some college visits. If so, share your experiences here.

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An expert's take on the new Child Care Regulations bill: Pros & Cons

Over the past few weeks there have been several comments and articles discussing the pros and cons of the Child Care Regulations being proposed in Senate Bill 56/ House Bill 1226. The strongest and loudest comments we’ve heard are focused on the separation of Church and State.

Senate Bill 56/House Bill 1226 standardizes basic health and safety requirements for all child care providers. Examples include ensuring all caregivers are at least eighteen (18) years old. It makes certain that all staff is trained in Universal Precautions and First Aid, with at least one CPR trained person on site. It also requires facilities have fire detection equipment.

At some point, individuals and groups should turn the focus back to the most important piece of the legislation, the safety of our children. The bill, as it is currently written, proposes changes to ensure safety for our youngest citizens, the ones who can not speak for themselves, and are taken care of in child care facilities daily. They need our support to make certain they are cared for in a safe and loving environment. I think this fact of the bill has been lost.

As part of my role of Early Childhood Coordinator for the Indiana PIRC, I have been blessed to work with several Child Care Ministries around Indiana. These programs have taken many steps to make sure children in their care are safe and well cared for every day. They have already taken many, if not most, of the steps outlined in the proposed bill. This is supported by the fact that we are not hearing from the Unlicensed Registered Child Care Ministries in opposition of the bill.

Take a moment to look at the proposed changes in SB56/HB1226 using this grid of the health and safety requirements. As a parent of three teenage boys, I honestly was surprised by the items that I thought would have already been in place at all child care centers. As parents, we look for a center were our child is happy, safe and well cared for while we are at work. We would not think to ask if everyone in the center is over 18 and not using illegal substances.

Remember parents, legislation can only go so far. We must be the front line advocates for our precious boys and girls.

For more information about Indiana Senate Bill 56/ House Bill 1226/ Child Care Regulations,  Download this PDF.

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Breaking Barriers: School through the eyes of a Spanish speaking immigrant

Evelyn Garcia
I came to the United States when I was 21 years old. I came to finish my bachelor’s degree in business administration. I had gone to English school back in El Salvador since I was six years old, but when I set foot in this country I realized how little I knew. It was a shock to me to find out that even though I had gone to school and learned English, to actually live here – to eat, breathe and dream English – was a whole different ball game.

Through the years I became more comfortable with the language and lost my fear of it. This experience makes me think of all these kids who come to the United States with no knowledge whatsoever of the language when they enroll in school. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to try to learn a subject such as history or science while not understanding the language in which it is taught and how hard it must be to take a test in that language.

My fear always was that I was not understanding the question right. I would read it over and over again, thinking, is this really what the teacher is asking? Imagine if one day all your teachers started talking in Spanish or Vietnamese or Chinese; would you be able to understand? I am glad that I found understanding from my teachers and my classmates. They were always willing to help me understand the questions and have the patience that allowed me to get comfortable enough that I could do my homework, take tests and not doubt my ability to learn.

I think is remarkable to see kids for whom English is a new language not only learning subjects at school but learning them as they learn the language. I truly believe that the support that I received from my parents, my teachers and my classmates helped me overcome the barrier of the language. So if you are struggling with the language or if your kids are, keep trying, keep pushing, keep learning. I know it is hard and sometimes it feels like you will never learn, but the reality is we never stop learning and that is the beauty of the challenge. I am still learning, I am still asking questions. Learn what you need to learn today; tomorrow you will learn some more.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced something like this? Have you ever gone to another country and felt lost because you couldn’t speak the language? How can we help and encourage these students? Let’s hear your experiences and ideas.

The Indiana Partnerships Center encourages and enables parents to engage with their child’s school, to the mutual benefit of the child and the school.  The center, which serves all of Indiana, is one of 62 Parental Information Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Monday, February 28, 2011

An expert breaks down ISTEP+ and "Test Anxiety"
This is a must read for parents.

Jerrell Cassady
We all experience anxiety – and anxiety does play a positive role in our lives. For more than 100 years, psychologists have recognized that some level of arousal or anxiety is needed to spark motivation to perform at our best. 

Feeling nervous before a big meeting, presentation or athletic contest helps us to energize and focus our attention on the task. However, too much anxiety has a negative influence, drawing our attention away from performing well and focusing on the anxiety itself. Such is the case with academic anxieties.

Academic anxiety is a new concept, proposed in the past year as a way to help us consider the anxiety that learners experience in academic settings. 

Common examples are math anxiety, science anxiety, computer anxiety and, of course, test anxiety. One way Test anxiety affects performance by pulling our attention away from the test and turning it toward the worry, tension or fear imposed by the test. Sometimes we avoid the test – including studying for it – in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety we feel. In both situations, the end result is obvious: we don’t do as well as we could if we weren’t distracted.

So . . . ISTEP+. Feel anxious yet? The term alone raises heart rates of children, teachers and parents around Indiana. When I was in high school in the 1980s, ISTEP was just being introduced and the level of tension about it was much like a standard classroom test. That is, some did not worry about it and just did their thing; and some paid it no attention, making patterns out of their bubble sheets, marking C for all the answers or sleeping; and some kids were anxious and uneasy about the mere presence of a test. There are always a few in a room who fit in the latter group. Our research at Ball State University shows that they suffer even when the test will not be scored and used in grades. The mere existence of a test sparks the anxiety.

Today, we have a whole different situation. ISTEP+ is now a “high-stakes” test in every sense of the term. Student scores can affect school credentials (even school closure and may eventually affect teacher pay and employment. That’s a lot of pressure tied to a test. My work, however, focuses on how to help learners cope with test anxiety.

Tips to make sure our kids do their best on ISTEP+:
  • Help your child see that ISTEP+ (or any test) should be taken seriously, but it is not life and death. Encourage him to get “up” for the test, but not see it as something that will ruin his life if he doesn’t do great.
  • If your child expresses concern over the test, build her confidence by reminding her of how well she has done on other things. If she did well on ISTEP+ last year, remind her of that. If she has improved in an area of academics, point that out.
  • Help your child prepare for the test – not in the ways you normally think. I don’t recommend a “cram session” before your third grader runs out the door for ISTEP+. But I do recommend that he get a good night’s rest, have a healthy breakfast and doesn’t carry any “baggage” to school with him before the test.
  • Reward your child’s positive attitude or performance. I don’t recommend raising anxiety unnecessarily with discussions about the big-picture effects of ISTEP+ scores, but it is useful to let her know that you value when she does her best. The reward, like all things, depends on the child. Recognize her effort, improvement over last year, meeting a certain standard or strength in a particular area of the assessment. You won’t know outcomes right away so, particularly with younger children, reward their attitudes and positive behavior during the testing week itself.

by Jerrell Cassady

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