Note-taking November: For the Elementary Classroom

For elementary schoolers, note taking as a reading or comprehension strategy is likely unfamiliar, and for a legitimate reason many younger learners are just beginning to get comfortable in their reading abilities at this stage. Many children view reading as a mundane task; but, if students begin to look at the reading material as a vessel for knowledge, they may change how they read for such information. Reading skills, particularly the ability to extract, analyze, and interpret relevant material, can be improved as students learn proper note-taking practices.

For elementary-age learners, taking notes while reading probably seems like an added burden on an already difficult task. Therefore, when introducing the concept, be sure to frame the instruction with expectations, benefits, and models of how the note taking should look.

Note-taking Takes Practice

Explain that note taking while reading is a practice which will take time elementary schoolers should expect to practice this skill consistently before it becomes second nature. They should also expect their notes to be messy, which is why a pencil is a must. Begin the note-taking process by simply recording a stream of thought while reading.

Encourage students to mark up words and phrases which are:

  • unfamiliar or confusing
  • bolded, italicized, or repeated
  • indicate the author’s purpose
  • signify an important moment or realization
  • present an interesting fact or take-away

Use these opportunities as a means of teaching context clues — if the term is unfamiliar, ask students if anything around the word or phrase provides insight into the unknown word’s meaning. Encourage them to brainstorm and experiment with possible word meanings until they land on something that makes logical, grammatical sense.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask, “Why?”

Elementary schoolers should also feel comfortable asking “why?” while reading. Encourage them to add question marks to areas of text they don’t understand or don’t see the relevance.

Model the Practice of Close Reading and Active Note-taking with Students Regularly

For the most part, note taking is an unfamiliar skill for elementary-age kids. When modeling the process, start small. Perhaps you begin by using a text that students have read before. This sense of familiarity will promote risk-taking and allow students to feel more comfortable tackling the text with their thoughts and observations. As you move through the text together, show them how to refer back to earlier notes if they have made connections or discovered an answer to a previous notation or question.

Inform Students of the Benefits of Note-taking

They will be surprised to know that notes can mean an easier time when rereading or skimming while studying. If students get in the habit of taking copious notes, most of the studying “legwork” will be done ahead of time. Their notes should also act as place markers, meaning any content which struck them as important or especially tricky should be highlighted to indicate that it is vital to review. Also, let young readers know that note taking is a deliberate practice ensuring focus, comprehension, and other active reading skills on behalf of the reader. If your mind is disengaged or drifting, there is no way you will be able to maintain substantial notes or annotations.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social and emotional learning (SEL) as “The process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Within the context of schools, SEL can be easily understood as the study of soft skills. SEL is where students learn how to treat others and how to treat themselves in a responsible, caring, and compassionate way.

Why do Social Workers Work as SEL Coordinators?

Oftentimes, schools rely heavily on teachers to provide SEL instruction and planning. While many teachers deeply value SEL learning, sometimes the pressure for students to perform well academically leads teachers to prioritize content lessons over life skills. When schools hire a specific person to coordinate and teach SEL, it sets aside time specifically for SEL and creates accountability for SEL practices within the school. Social workers are the right person for this job for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, social workers are highly qualified to teach the content. The core values of social work align perfectly with the learning goals of SEL. The social work profession is grounded in the values of social justice, the importance of human relationships, competence, integrity, service, and the dignity and worth of the person.

These values are aligned with the five competencies of social and emotional learning: self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and self-management. For instance, social workers value relationships and learn explicitly in school how to develop authentic relationships with clients. Therefore, social workers are equipped to break down and model what it looks like to have relationship skills. Further, CASEL teaches that effective SEL programming is SAFE: sequenced, active, focused, and explicit.

Social workers have training in explicitly teaching social skills through explicit and focused role-plays. This skill can be easily modified and applied to the whole-class setting, seamlessly integrating social work therapeutic techniques with direct instruction. Additionally, social workers know how to respond in the moment. Due to the reflective and process-oriented nature of SEL lessons, students may sometimes disclose personal information, such as experiencing abuse, death in the family, thoughts of suicide, bullying, and more.

Not only do school social workers know the correct protocols for handling high-risk situations, such as suicide ideation or abuse, but social workers can provide therapeutic services in the school or refer students to effective mental health providers in the community. Social workers have training in both responding in the moment with empathy and also caring for themselves as practitioners later through explicit self-care to prevent burn-out. Teachers may not always feel comfortable and prepared to respond to difficult disclosures such as these.

Benefits to the Mental Health Staff

The social worker providing direct SEL instruction builds a reciprocal nature, benefiting all mental health staff at the school. With effective SEL services, the number of students needing more intensive services may decrease as students learn adaptive coping skills, healthy relationships, and effective conflict resolution within the classroom setting. When students are equipped with these proactive skills for addressing common problems which emerge in school, maladaptive responses that require the assistance of mental health professionals become less common.

Further, students who do need additional social work services benefit from a renewed sense of anonymity and decreased shame. When all students in the school are accustomed to interacting weekly with the school social worker, it becomes less obvious which students are receiving intensive services. Young students do not assume when a social worker walks into a classroom they are there for one specific student and therefore, privacy is restored.

Additionally, by offering ways for all students to see the social worker through self-referrals and lunch bunch services, almost all students trickle in and out of the social work office at one point or another. With this volume of foot traffic, students are much less likely to be concerned a peer may notice them coming or going from the office. Talking to the social worker about problems and issues becomes the norm, effectively alleviating mental health stigmas which often permeate through schools and the larger community.

Lastly, when the social worker takes such an active role in the classroom setting, they are better equipped to effectively respond to students with high needs when crises happen. Oftentimes in large school settings, student to social worker ratios can be extremely high. This presents challenges to building authentic relationships with all students at the school as social workers may be meeting students for the first time during a crisis. When the social worker provides direct SEL instruction, it is almost guaranteed the student and social worker have interacted positively during class previous to the incident. A level of trust is built faster and with more authenticity during the most difficult situations.

How the SEL Coordinator Position Works

Social workers are ideal providers of SEL instruction and support in schools. The social work mission requires practitioners to enhance well-being and empower those who are most vulnerable (NASW, 2008). By supporting students with SEL development in school, social workers equip students with valuable life skills that not only enhance their well-being, but may in the long-term serve as a protective factor for many inequitable outcomes.

Presently, I work in partnership with our school counselor in a school of approximately 600 students pre-kindergarten through fifth grade to provide wellness services. Our school counselor provides tier two and three services while I primarily provide tier one and two. This arrangement allows me to be available for predictable and scheduled classes in a way school social workers are typically not, as I am not pulled out for crisis response. I provide SEL lessons through direct instruction in all 19 of our elementary homerooms bi-weekly.

On the weeks I do not provide direct instruction, I prepare lesson plans and materials for homeroom teachers to implement the lessons on their own. To support the SEL curriculum, I also provide ongoing training to staff and family roundtables for parents/guardians. Additionally, I provide social skills and therapeutic services for students through individual and group services outside of regularly scheduled lessons.

All students are given the opportunity to meet with me through lunch bunches, where students sign up to eat lunch in my office. Through self-referral services, students request to discuss mental health-related concerns with a member of the wellness team. Overall, my week is split halfway between direct instruction in the classroom and more typical school social work services.

Closing Thoughts

When I enter the school building, I hear echoes of “Good morning Ms. Knipp!” as I make my way to my office. One elementary student holds up two fingers when he sees me, to indicate he has put two drops in classmate’s buckets (our way of measuring kind acts) so far this week. When I arrive at my office and open my calendar, I see today I have four lessons, a lunch session, two therapeutic groups, and a parent learning event after school.

I have the best job in the world. I am a social worker, but my official job title is “Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator.” My main responsibility is proactive, preventive work through direct instruction of social and emotional learning.

Empowering students with tools for SEL development at a young age promotes social justice in the long run. Social workers have the training and values necessary to implement these lessons in schools now. SEL instruction implemented by social workers not only improves the school, but it also improves social work practices within educational environments.

Teachers Aren’t Receiving the Support They Need, but You Can Help

Better school funding, better pay, and better benefits, these are a few of the demands fueling teachers’ recent strikes and walkouts across the U.S., including those in Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. In the wake of the action, these states have taken the first steps to improve school funding.

However, many would argue that we still have a long way to go before we can honestly say that teachers are compensated fairly or that schools have the right supplies to provide a proper education and a healthy learning environment.

We have a lot of work to do, and speaking up is just the beginning. Education is one of the rare issues in which we can make a profound difference on a local level. Along with choosing to participate in strikes or attend walkouts, consider these five ways you can support teachers, both locally and nationwide:

1. Support teachers and schools financially.

There is a significant disparity in the amount of funding that each school receives, which creates a huge quality gap. According to our “Classroom Trends” report, teachers spend an average of $381 of their own money on classroom supplies each year. The problem is worse in regions with lower educational funding, where teachers are forced to spend a yearly average of nearly $500 on classroom supplies. That expense is deducted from a salary that’s already low compared to other professions with similar levels of education and experience.

By donating books, school supplies, or money, you can help offset that high out-of-pocket cost. Check out DonorsChoose, an organization that makes it easy to fund projects at specific schools. To take a more hands-on approach, you can visit schools near you, learn about their needs, and then hold a fundraiser to address those needs.

If you’re unable to make in-kind donations, consider offering gift cards from your business or place of work. You can also offer exclusive teacher appreciation discounts to show your support. Because teachers are spending a lot out of pocket, anything you can do to lessen that burden helps. For example, at Staples, teachers can earn rewards for classroom purchases and up to 10 percent cash back.

If you simply cannot afford to make a financial donation, consider shopping from businesses that support teachers. There are several companies with a dedication to education, even if their industry does not directly correlate. For example, WeAreTeachers recently partnered with Kinsa, a smart thermometer company, to give away 15,000 thermometers. While thermometers aren’t traditionally considered school supplies and are, therefore, excluded from lists, they are essential for stopping the flu and other viruses from spreading throughout schools.

2. Take the time to fully understand education issues.

Regardless of your political preference, it’s important to understand both local and national education issues. Doing research on the issues facing your community is your civic duty, regardless of whether you are a parent or whether you work directly for a school district, because a poorly educated generation will eventually result in a poorly educated population.

Visit sites like Chalkbeat and Education Week to learn about region-specific concerns and local events. There are also local Facebook groups you can participate in to discuss education issues and learn about the schools in your area. If you want to educate yourself on national issues, try consulting larger organizations like the PTA.

It’s fitting that the key to a better education system is learning. Simply being knowledgeable about the issues can inspire progress and keep the education system at the top of our minds, both in local communities and on a larger scale.

3. Create free curriculum resources.

Teachers are often looking for resources to bring into their classrooms. Some companies and organizations dedicate an entire section of their websites to providing educational materials to teachers, like this one by NASA. If you’re in a position to do so, consider developing, sharing, or distributing free materials that could fill a gap at a local or national level.

For example, we know that teachers are often looking for financial literacy resources to help their students understand money skills. At MDR, we’ve worked with the charitable arms at financial corporations to develop free lessons that meet that need for teachers. Through partnerships like this, we can all come together to educate the next generation.

4. Lead by example.

The media’s coverage of education issues tends to be negative, sometimes even blaming teachers for issues they have little or no control over. But sharing your support of educators via social media, on your website, or in everyday conversations can counteract that negativity.

Of course, pairing action with verbal support is the best way to advocate for teachers, but don’t underestimate the powerful effect of words on their own. For example, you might post on social media about local teachers’ classroom projects or even mention your favorite classroom project to your friends at trivia night.

5. Volunteer at a school.

Perhaps the most valuable investment you can make is your time. Volunteering can not only provide much-needed help in our nation’s schools, but it can also help you understand some of the issues teachers face firsthand. Consider bringing your friends along, too, and empower people in your community to advocate for changes in our education system.

If you still need more convincing, take a look at this study from United Healthcare that reports the ways volunteering positively affects mental and physical health. Simply put, helping others also helps you. Confused about where to start? Check out organizations like Reading Partners that have a plethora of volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to get involved.

Most importantly, even though it’s highly politicized in today’s headlines, remember that education is essential to our nation at the most basic level. We are educating the people who will eventually run our country, our businesses, and our communities. We have to care. We have to help where we can. Otherwise, we’re setting ourselves up for even bigger problems in the future.

 

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

What happens during a fire drill?

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

The Best Arizona Social Work Degree Programs

The state of Arizona offers several social work programs. Arizona students may study for the BSW, MSW or Ph.D. Arizona State University and the University of Northern Arizona are among the two top schools for social work degree programs in Arizona. Read on for information concerning degree program requirements.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University is a research university with over 50,000 students on several campuses. Because of the school’s size, reputation and resources, ASU is able to offer the bachelor of social work (BSW), the master of social work (MSW) and the Ph.D. degree. These degree programs are offered in Phoenix and Tucson.

The BSW at ASU requires students to complete courses in government and politics, economics, philosophy and ethics. The BSW prepares students to work with underserved and at-risk communities. For instance, upon graduation students may eventually work in the areas of adoption, HIV/AIDS services, child welfare, mental health and/or substance abuse services. ASU also prepares students to work for practical solutions to problems commonly seen in the American southwest. For instance, some graduates choose to work as advocates for immigrant rights.

Most ASU students receive some form of financial aid. Many scholarships are offered based on academic performance and degree program. For students who would like to live in Phoenix or Tucson a Phoenix moving company might be your best bet. Living in a metro area could also provide students with social work internship opportunities.

ASU Advanced Degree Programs

ASU offers several MSW programs, one of which can be completed online. Each of the master’s degree programs requires 60 hours of coursework as well as a fieldwork component. The university’s field education office helps place students in an internship where the student completes over 900 hours of work in at least one area of social services. For instance, a student might complete their fieldwork in disability services if it’s an area in which he or she is interested.

University Northern Arizona

The Department of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Northern Arizona offers a bachelor’s degree program in social work. The BSW degree prepares students to:

  • Help victims of domestic violence, child abuse and/or homelessness
  • Assist people with substance abuse problems
  • Provide support to those struggling with disabilities, mental problems and behavioral problems
  • Advocate for social change
  • Become a licensed generalist social worker

Graduates of the program work as case managers, victim advocates, disability services workers, family support services workers and child and youth services workers. In these fields, UNA graduates advocate for underserved groups and even become involved with politics and policy.

At the University of Northern Arizona, students first complete their core courses, and afterwards, they must apply separately to the social work program. Once accepted into the BSW program, a student must successfully complete courses in human behavior, crisis intervention and research. Students complete at least 120 coursework hours for the degree, which typically takes about four years.

In addition to classroom work, the BSW program also has a fieldwork requirement, which allows students to get work experience by completing an internship. Students may intern in the public or private sector. In the past, students have worked for both the state and federal government. Students may dedicate several months of full-time work to satisfy their field placement requirement, or they may work part-time while completing coursework. The university has a field placement director to assist students with selecting a suitable position.

The social work programs at Arizona State and Northern Arizona offer some of the best social work degree programs in the state. Students can earn a bachelor’s or advanced degree in 2-4 years, depending on the program of study. The field placement requirements also allow students the opportunity to gain practical experience and networking opportunities.

Issues for Immigrant Parents and Their Children

Immigrant families to Canada and the United States can face many issues complicating their adjustment to the new host culture.

Often unconsidered is the implications for intra-familial culture clash when children take to the host culture sooner or more wholeheartedly than their parents. Risk of conflict between children and their parents is heightened on issues of socialization with opposite gender friends, developing friends of other cultures, issues of rights and freedoms and expectations for academic performance.

Further, it is important to appreciate that immigrant families come to Canada generally seeking to provide a better life for their children than what might have been available in their country of origin. Hence when these parents come up against conflict with their children owing to adaptation, the conflict can be felt by the parent as tremendous disrespect by the child who doesn’t understand the parents’ rationale and sacrifice in coming to the new country.

While there are common challenges faced between immigrant parents and children of both gender, risk of pregnancy is a potent issue that can intensify concerns for the well-being of girls. In addition, strong cultural imperatives with regard to dress, deportment and socializing with the opposite sex can at times place greater demands on girls than boys.

These differences can erupt into serious fights between daughters and parents. Even when a fight does not erupt, some teenaged girls may seek to lead a double-life; keeping secrets about relationships and even their dress when at school or in the community. Other teenaged girls may seek to subordinate their feelings to the will of their parents only to find themselves depressed and anxious over the difficulty with cultural and family adaptation.

Boys do face cultural imperatives and conflicts too, but the absence of risk of pregnancy can lessen the scrutiny placed upon them by parents. However, the boys may be more subject to high expectations for academic excellence, which may or may not be taken well. If not taken well, boys may come to reject their own family’s culture, falling prey to the illusions of freedom from authority by gravitating to counter-culture groups or gangs. This in turn can lead to a risk of conflict with the law and abject academic failure as well as extreme conflict with their family.

The challenge is on the parents to adapt and find reasonable strategies to support cultural expectations in view of the greater likelihood that their children will be affected and changed by the new host culture. It is less a question of whether the children will be changed by the host culture, but rather how and to what degree.

Further, some immigrant parents may hail from cultures where the norm is to tell a child what to do and expect obedience. This quickly erodes for the children socialized particularly in western culture where individual freedom is valued and rewarded. Thus those parents who adjust and develop strategies that minimize the risk of conflict with their children stand the opportunity to remain more influential in their children’s lives than those parents who rely solely upon control strategies.

While not nagging their children, sharing stories as to why parents chose to immigrate and their hopes for their family’s future can inform their children as to their family aspirations. Further, when parents invite their children to engage in a dialogue about the differences between their respective lives non-judgmentally; parents and children may be apprised of their respective experiences and may be in a better position to discuss differences between themselves.

The challenge here is for the parents to develop skills that rely more upon influence than control. This can also be facilitated by participation and enjoyment of cultural activities and inviting their children’s new friends to join in. Co-opting children’s friends can serve as a better way of maintaining family integrity than isolating from friends.

The Social Work Internship Debate

The debate of social work internships is a hot topic right now, and I hear a complaint about field placements come up daily. People have been constantly arguing about what works and what should be implemented. It does not seem like there is a clear consensus on the issue, and who knows if there will ever be one. I thought of sharing my perspective, especially with the Summit on Field Education coming up in October.

unpaid internship
Photo Credit: Beatriz Albuquerque, 2005, Chicago, Work For Free Project. Beatriz Albuquerque www.beatrizalbuquerque.com

Before I begin, I will share some information on my background. I am currently a dual-degree master’s student in social work and public administration, and get the chance to be exposed in two different programs. I have a clear focus of what I want to do, but still open to new opportunities. I am 23 years old and will be beginning my TENTH internship at the end of this month.

Yes, I have completed ten internships ALL in the public sector, and I value each of their experiences. In addition to my internship experiences, I worked at the career center at my undergraduate school for over three years and currently work at the career services office at my current school for almost a year. I would say, that I have had my fair share experiences with internships and have observed and learned what works and what does not. That being said, I want to share my thoughts on this internship debate and offer my thoughts.

First of all, I believe there should be an internship requirement for social work programs. Internships are valuable experiences and complement the information learned in the classroom. The more internships a student completes, the more opportunities they get to develop their career goals as well as expand their network. I completely agree with the required mandate for all concentrations, but I certainly do not agree with mandates that are currently in place and some of the suggestions I have heard.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Strict Requirements do not work and making them stricter will not work make them better: The strict requirements that are currently in place for social work internships are harming the current generation of students. Anyone advocating for even stricter requirements is ignorant of what is like to be a student now. We want options, and we want to individualize. Students entering colleges now have grown up believing we are unique, and we constantly brag about it. We each have our own interests and skills, and we want to find experiences that compliment them. A universal approach does not work for every client, and it certainly does not work for every social work student. Enforcing strict requirements is harming social work programs and ultimately the field.

Internships are for Exploration: As I noted before, internships are a chance for students to explore opportunities in their desired field. Since social work is such a vast field, it is important for students to have the opportunity to explore the many options. Students should be able to explore things they like before they enter into a career. I am not positive, but I certainly believe that many students drop out of social work program, because they are forced to perform work they do not want to do. If students had the option to explore areas of interest to them, then maybe they would value their experience more in the program.

Disciplining Does Not Help: This should be an easy topic to conceptualize, but schools across the country are punishing their students for wanting something different. Students are kicked out of programs for horrible field placements at the fault of the school for placing them there. Students are deemed UNFIT social workers for pointing out flaws at their agencies. The director of field education at my school has told numerous students to DROP OUT of the program simply if they do not like the rules. Isn’t that ridiculous? Since when is punishment the way to address issues in social work? Shouldn’t we supporting students through their beginning stages of being a social worker instead of setting them up for failure?

Mandatory Social Work Credentials for Supervisors Limit Options: I understand the reason for requiring a supervisor to have a social work background, but this limits so many opportunities for social workers to get great experiences. If you think about it, there are social workers that understand the values of social work WITHOUT a social work degree. If someone without a social work degree is doing the exact same work job at a similar agency than someone with a social work degree, why can’t they supervise a social work student? If colleges are in need of more placements for students, this should be a rule that seriously needs to be reconsidered. Having a social work degree, does not qualify you to be the best social work supervisor.

Concurrent Course Requirements: I am not sure if all schools require this, but my school definitely does. They require students to be taking course at the same time as their placement, primarily meaning they can’t complete their internship hours at all over the summer. This rule is ignorant of the needs and schedules of current students. I do believe an internship should begin after the student begins coursework, but this rule just makes things harder for students. Taking a full course load and completing an internship that is most likely unpaid is already a lot, and add on top of that working somewhere to pay the bills. If schools were more flexible with this rule, then maybe students will be able to complete the program with less stress and more enjoyment.

Now that I’ve discussed addressed some of the issues I see. Here are some suggestions I have for improvement:

  • Students should be required to have an internship since social work programs are professional programs, but students should have flexibility and should be individualized to their interests, skills and needs.
  • Students should have option in the internships they obtain and should practice applying and obtaining these internships in preparation for job applying process. Students can obviously receive help and support from the school during this process.
  • Students should not be punished for bad internship experiences. They are learning experiences and should be taken treated as such.
  • Supervisors should be approved by the school, but should not have to have a social work degree. Mental Health counseling, advanced psychology, public administration, public policy, business administration, and other applicable degrees can be effective supervisors and provide the student a great perspective in their internship.
  • Students should be able to be flexible with their internships, as long as they are meeting the requirements.
  • Minimum hours requirements could be implemented to ensure students perform an adequate amount of applicable field experience.
  • Internships must be approved by the field office as applicable placements, and the student and supervisor should set a learning plan to ensure all the social work objectives are met in the internships.
  • Students should not have to be placed in internships outside of their career interests unless they desire.

I hope this article is a start for discussion, not an argument. I do not mean to cause problems or trouble, but merely offer a different perspective that could be helpful in this internship debate. Please share these thoughts, and I’d like to hear other opinions.

Ten Tips for Wrapping Up Your Internship!

Many college students are finally ending their academic years and semesters. Classes always seems so long, but at the same time, time flies! Since the semester is ending, internships are coming to a close as well. It can be a sad situation, as many students love their internships. On the other hand, it may be a nice relief for the students who did not care for their position. Regardless of interest, it is important for all students to make sure they end the internship in good standing. An internship can provide references and connections for students in their later career endeavors. A good student always makes sure that they have wrap up everything at their internship and maintain a great relationship.

career-opportunitiesHere are ten tips to help you interns finish your experiences:

1.Finish any projects/assignments. This is self-explanatory, but make sure you complete everything you were assigned. The completion of your hours is not an excuse for incomplete work. Your contribution to the agency may be really important, and you do want to be the intern who leaves incomplete work for the agency.

2.Set a final date with your supervisor. Another self-explanatory tip, but it is important. Some schools have hours requirements for credit, and some students think they can just peace out once their hours are completed. This is not true. Sit down with your supervisor and figure out an exact date that works for both of you, before you plan to leave.

3.Ask about other agency opportunities. If you are about to graduate, it would not hurt to ask about jobs with the agency, full-time, part-time, seasonal. You already have an understanding and connection to the agency, which may make the transition a lot easier. Also, internships can be long interviews! Many interns get hired after their position, so make sure you ask about sticking around to let them know you are interested!

4.Offer to train the new intern(s). For those of you at agencies where interns overlap, offer to help train the next intern. You obviously can give the new intern a great perspective and prepare them for a great internship experience. You have an insight your supervisor does not have, and you can maybe help them avoid any mistakes or ensure they do things a certain way. This always shows your supervisor that you care about the agency, and they may connect you to future opportunities.

5.Thank your supervisor and other colleagues. An internship is a great experience, and it takes work to plan and hire an intern. Make sure you thank your supervisor and anyone else you worked with before you leave. A nice thank you card is good way to show you a thankful for the opportunity they gave you.

6.Be sure to leave your contact information. You probably won’t be keeping the email address they made for you, so make sure you leave an updated email address they can contact you. Make sure it is professional obviously. Also, seniors and graduates, ensure that your email address is not your school one, because you may lose it once you graduate.

7.Connect with them on LinkedIn. If you haven’t already, add people in the agency on LinkedIn, while they remember you! You don’t want to wait a few months or years, and have them try to remember you. If you add them right away, then they can endorse your for some skills or write a recommendation for you while your performance is still fresh in their head.

8.Update your resume/LinkedIn. Before you leave, update your resume and professional profiles with everything you completed. Have your supervisor look at it, and help with the wording. You want to make sure you encompass your whole experience before you forget and move on to the next opportunity.

9.Sign up on the volunteer list. This applies mainly to my nonprofit folks. If you agency uses volunteers in any capacity, sign up to be one. Staying connected to the agency can only help you later on in life. I interned at an agency in the fall, stayed connected through the spring via volunteering, and was offered a job once I graduated. Do extra things to stay noticed and they will remember you.

10.Stay in touch. Again, staying in touch can only help you. Before you leave, ask if it is alright for you to stay in touch with them, and then ask what is the best way to contact them. This will prove that you plan to stay in touch. Remember connections could lead to many things!

Internships are the most important experiences for students to figure out their career development goals. Make sure you optimize your experience, and take advantage of the future opportunities that could come. Just because you end an internship, does not mean it cannot benefit you later down the road. Social work students should especially be doing this, since many of us spend a whole year as an intern. We receive quality experience, and our supervisors did a lot for us. Make sure you do as much for them, and put yourself in a situation for them to believe you are going to be a great social worker. Be a superstar intern, and make them remember you!

The Pros and Cons of Placing Students in Internships

As many of you know, internship experiences are the most important part of a social work program. Since the MSW is a professional degree, having a professional experience that you can apply your coursework is necessary. Internships do more than provide free labor and something to do.

They test the student’s knowledge and help them discover their future goals. Internships are learning experiences, and students should complete as many internship opportunities as they possibly can. I am about to finish my eight internship, and I know I will be completing at least one before I graduate school. Without all these internships, I would not have known the aspects of the social welfare sector that I like and dislike, as well as where I excel.

Considering these points, it is important for schools to be able to provide successful learning experiences. In order to ensure students get these opportunities and abide by the regulations of the Council of Social Work Education, most social work schools place their students at sites. I do not want to state that this is a wrong way to complete internships, especially for graduate students, but there definitely are positives and negative components of this approach. The following points should be considered while we talk about this internship reform.

I’ll start with the positive aspects first of this approach first.

Students are guaranteed some experience.Whether or not the student believes it is applicable, the student will get experience that they will benefit them in one way or another. They may not being doing the work they want to do or end up doing, but they are learning something that will help them in some way or another.

It helps those students who are unsure of their career goals. Even though I believe that students without career goals should not enter graduate work, this way helpful for them to identify opportunities and explore fields of social work, they may not realized existed. Let’s face it. An MSW degree can be an exploratory process, especially for some of the less qualified and motivated students.

The school has better connections than the student. Obviously, the school staff knows more professionals and agencies in the local community than the student. If a student is not originally from the area or went to college in another city, they may not have the connections or know of the agencies to obtain an internship. Agencies also can reach out to the schools and inform of their ability to host students.

There is less worry about abiding by the national council’s standards. Most likely a student does not know the policies and procedures of the CSWE, and they would have to attempt to understand all of them in order to choose a placement. Luckily for students, the schools have staff that know the policies and ensure each experience qualifies.

Students learn to make the best out of situations. As social work students, this the best part of schools placing students at agencies. Social work students are unique and are working with clients who may not be able to change their situations. How are we supposed to motivate our clients to make the best out of their situations, if we cannot make the best out of our own? Our internships are ways for us to experience first-hand what it is like to be given a situation and learn to maximize the opportunity. There is definitely something to acknowledge when a student turns an internship that may not want into an experience they enjoy.

Even though there are many good things, every system has its flaws. Here are a few things that I noticed that are not beneficial:

There is no guarantee that the student will be able to explore their interests. Internships are learning experiences, and crucial for students to figure out what they want to do. If the internship experiences are chosen for them, then they cannot explore their interests. Students should be about learning as much as you can possible while in school, and should passionately follow opportunities that interest them.

Students may not be adequately prepared to obtain a job in their desired field. Most MSW programs have at least two internship experiences, depending on the program. If a student is placed in two internships they do not like or realize they would like to do something else by the time the graduate, they are going to have a difficult time finding a job they do like. For example, my school places you the first year, but you get the chance to choose your placement the second year.

The fact you can choose your second placement is their excuse when students complain that they would like to pick their placement. I honestly do not agree that answer is good enough. For example, a macro student interested in policy will most likely be placed in a clinical internship their first year, then they chose their second year placement. The next year they pick a policy internship, but realize they do not like it or would prefer to do something else like program management. Now what? The student has two internship experiences of things they do not want to do, and are not prepared to have a job they may want to have.

Graduate students should not be babied.By the time an individual reaches graduate school, they should have a specific plan of what the degree is going to do for them. If a graduate student does not have any idea of what they want to do, then they should NOT go to graduate school. They should probably go work for a couple of years, do more internships, complete a public service program or spend time figuring out what you want to do before you spend your money on something that you may end up not liking. Placing students in their internships is treating them like high school or undergraduate students. Graduate students should be more than capable to find their own internships.

Students do not develop the professional skills needed for job searching post-graduation. This is a big flaw I see in this system. Students need to learn in school while they have resources available to develop professional skills, such as resume writing, cover letters, interviews and networking. If the school does all of that for them, students will not have the necessary skills needed when they enter the job market. In some ways, this method promotes laziness since the school is going to do everything for the student. Students need to learn to do the work themselves and prepare for applying to jobs. It is not easy. Ask any graduate. Students need to learn to fail when it comes to job. Every young professional is not going to get every job they submit an application. Learning this now and obtaining support from school services will be extremely helpful when they undergo the arduous process of applying for jobs post-graduation.

Placing students becomes political.Unfortunately, I feel that almost everything is political and social work schools certainly have to deal with these issues. Agencies will expect quality students from the school, and if they do not get them, they may not accept any more interns or even graduates. Schools then have to deal with placing the good students are the sites they want to maintain good relationships with, and then the rest of the agencies get the students left over. If an agency and student both a say in the process, then less responsibility falls on the school if they experience does not work out. Also, schools may focus on the social work areas that benefit the school rather than the student. Students need a voice in these decisions, especially since it is influential factor in their lives.

Honestly, I believe each student should be treated individually. We cannot use a universal system for every student. The students who may have discovered what they want to do and have a strict career plan should be allowed to tailor their education to that field. The students who may not know what they want to do can opt to be placed and the school can take care of it. I completed eight internships and had a job before I started my MSW program. I knew what I wanted out of this program more than the students who did not do any internships before starting graduate school.

I may have been fine finding my own internship, but other students may have not been prepared. Students are professionals or are learning to become professional. If they pick an internship they do not like, then they know that for next time. Without this opportunity to explore, how can a student develop successful career goals on their own with a school holding their hand the entire process?  It seems ironic that a field focused on motivating the individual to make decisions in their life has such strict regulatory standards. Universal methods and social work do not usually go together.

Also View Segments on PBS NewsHour:

Former Interns Debate the Worth and Legality of Unpaid Internships

Will Work for Free: How Unpaid Internships Cheapen Workers of All Ages

Why Higher Education in the 21st Century is No Longer Optional

Education has long been considered one of the gateways to socioeconomic success in the United States. In today’s labor market, however, education is more essential to lifelong economic success than ever before.

graduationcapsAs Alan Krueger, President Obama’s Chairman of the Council of the Economic Advisers, explains, the American economy is experiencing a “skill-biased technology change,” where technology, automation, and globalization are replacing the need for low-skill labor (2012). As demand for low-skill labor declines, individuals without a high school or college degree are having an increasingly difficult time finding gainful employment than their counterparts did in previous decades.

On the other hand, individuals with analytic skills and college degrees have benefited from this skill-biased technology change, as these individuals have the educational training to meet the demands of the changing labor market. The decline in union membership (20 percent in 1982 compared to 12 percent in 2012) has further decreased the availability of livable wages and job security for employees with lower levels of education, as unions have been shown to protect low-skill jobs from unequal shifts in the labor market (Card, as cited in Krueger, 2012). In many cases, less educated workers are forced to work at or near the minimum wage, an hourly rate that has decreased in relative value since the 1980s (Lee, as cited in Krueger, 2012).

The Education Wage Gap

This economic shift is one of the primary reasons the wage gap between high school graduates and college graduates has soared over the past four decades, contributing to an increase in economic inequality in the United States.

  • While education had been a predictor of income for several generations, according to The Hamilton Project, over the past 40 years, incomes for college graduates have increased by more than one-third while decreasing for individuals with only a high school degree or less (Greenstone, Harris, Li, Looney, Patashnik, 2012).
  • The National Center for Education Statistics (2012) reports that in 2010, the median annual income for a young adult with a bachelor’s degree was $45,000, compared with $37,000 for an associate’s degree, $29,900 for those with a high school diploma, and $21,000 for those without a high school degree or GED.

These statistics suggest that young adults with a college degree earn 50 percent more than individuals with only a high school degree and twice as much as individuals who did not complete high school.

  • The Pew Charitable Trust (2012) cites that over 80 percent of those who do not complete high school earn less than $30,000 annually, and nearly half are unemployed compared with only 15 percent of college graduates.
  • According to Looney and Greenstone (2011), after adjusting for inflation, the median annual income for a male in 1970 with only a high school degree was close to $50,000, compared with $26,000 in 2012.

This increasing income differential between high school and college degree earners represents a fundamental shift in the educational needs of American citizens.  Today, education is not simply a gateway to economic improvement but is one of the key mechanisms for economic survival. While there was a time when an individual with a high school degree could participate and prosper in the middle class, this phenomenon is no longer a reality. Our current economy demands that Americans receive quality basic education to better insure their success in institutions of higher learning.

The Importance of Education for Low-Income Students

Today education represent the primary vehicle for economic mobility. This fact is especially true for low-income students. According to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project (2012):

  • A four-year college degree programs was the largest source of economic mobility and stability for those living in poverty.
  • Only 10 percent of people with a college degree raised in the bottom quintile of family income remained there in adulthood, compared to half of those who did not go to college.
  • Having a college degree makes a person three times more likely to rise from the bottom of the economic spectrum all the way to the top.
  • While individuals at the bottom quintile of family income are the least likely to surpass their parents’ income or wealth, a college degree earners from the bottom quintile of family income make the largest gains in absolute wealth compared with the income level they were raised in, and 85 percent had greater income than their parents did.

What these figures represent is that successfully completing high school followed by successfully completing college are essential steps for lifting people out of poverty.

Education, Income, and Well-Being

While income and wealth are not the only benefits of education, the realities of living in poverty make the link between education and income hard to ignore. Beyond income, however, higher levels of education have been shown to:

  • Increase health and longevity,
  • Increase civic participation,
  • Decrease crime and incarceration rates (Lochner, 2011).
  • Increase in productivity,
  • Decrease in reliance on disability and welfare payments,
  • Increase marriage rates,
  • Decease the likelihood of raising children in poverty (Greenstone, Harris, Li, Looney, Patashnik, 2012).

While many of these factors may be related to income, citizens with higher levels of education have better access to information about health and preventative care, child development, personal finances, risk-behavior and lifestyle choices compared with individuals with less education.

Conclusion and the Role of Social Workers

Education in the 21st century represents a critical avenue for economic mobility, security, and social prosperity. In short, higher education has become the primary gateway to the middle class.  However, higher education is still discussed as an “option” in many American schools and the high cost of colleges and universities reinforces old believes that college is a “privileged” experience. Both of these notions are false and the mechanisms supporting them must be reformed. Higher education must be affordable and our high schools must be explicitly designed to prepare and transition student into higher education settings.

The definition of higher education must also be explored. How well do trade schools equip students with marketable skills? Some trade schools are excellent while others simply bring people an inch above the poverty line. As such, some technical education programs should be considered higher education and supported, while others should be improved or phased out.

Social workers can play a pivotal role in helping families and systems adjust to the realities of the skill-biased technology change:

  • When we work with families and adolescents, we can empower our clients to make more informed decisions about the future by making them aware of this valuable information.
  • We can further transform our direct practice orientation to where higher education is a universal treatment goal and desired outcome for all consumers.
  • When working in school settings we can foster a college-bound culture among our students and fellow faculty, and address shortcomings within administrations where failing to continue education remains acceptable.
  • In community practice settings we can advocate a “cradle to college” continuum of care and bolster support for community colleges, scholarships, and higher education transition/support programs.
  • Politically, we can advocate for continued education reform, an investment in schools serving low-income communities, support legislation aimed at making higher education more affordable and continuing support to effective community-colleges and trade schools.
  • Finally, in schools of social work, we must ensure that social work students understand that education is a one of the primary empowerment method for out clients and is one of the most successfully mechanism for overcoming disenfranchisement.

The skill-biased technology change in the American labor market is real and we have yet to fully adjust to it. While raising the minimum wage is an important step towards supporting low-income workers, this effort will not be enough to combat the effects of the changing demand for labor. Higher education must become the norm and it should be accessible to ALL Americans.

References

Greenstone, M., Harris, M., Li, K., Looney, A., Patashnik, J. (2012). A dozen economic facts about k-12 education. The Hamilton Project, Sept 2012 Policy Memo.

Lochner, L. (2011). The importance of education on crime, health and mortality, and civic engagement. The Vox Organization.

Looney, A., Greenstone, M. (2011). What is happening to America’s less-skilled workers? The importance of education and training in today’s economy. The Hamilton Project

Krueger, A. (2012). The rise and consequences of inequality in the United States. The White House Blogs.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The Condition of Education 2012 (NCES 2012- 045). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Pew Charitable Trust. (2012). Perusing the American dream: economic mobility across generations. July 2012 Report. Washington D.C.: Author.

Your Teen and Alcohol: Signs of a Problem

It is important for all parents to familiarize themselves with the most common signs that a teenager has developed an alcohol problem. After all, research indicates that as many as 30 percent of all high school students participate in binge drinking, and this can easily lead to alcoholism, a DUI arrest or even death. Realistically, the vast majority of teenagers will experiment with alcohol at some point. However, there is a big difference between catching your teen trying a beer and turning a blind eye to the many warning signs that they have started drinking on a regular basis.

Top Warning Signs

Sure this is water?
Sure this is water?

1. Issues at School – A sudden drop in academic performance should always be closely paid attention to because it can be indicative of an alcohol, drug or medical issue. Additionally, you need to pay close attention to any attendance issues or any unusual disciplinary action that occurs. Due to this, it is always a good idea to request that your teen’s school contact you if they begin to notice a decline in grades or behavior.

2. Switching to a New Social Group – It is natural for teens to branch out socially as they get older, but anyone who suddenly switches their entire group of friends could be developing an issue with alcohol. After all, this typically happens when a teenager decides that they want to get drunk a lot and their typical group of friends disapproves. You should be especially cognizant of the danger that is presented by any new friends that your teen is reluctant to let you meet.

3. Mood Changes – Every teenager goes through mood swings, but adding alcohol to their hormonal mix is likely to render them even more defensive and irritable. Therefore, if they begin exhibiting frequent outbursts of anger you will need to consider the possibility that they could be on their way to becoming an alcoholic.

4. Mental or Physical Issues – If your teen suddenly starts having issues with poor concentration and memory lapses, this could definitely be indicative of a drinking problem. Additionally, you should pay attention to other potential warning signs such as slurred speech, coordination issues and bloodshot eyes.

5. Depression – Although a teen can definitely have the symptoms of depression without drinking, it is common for an alcohol problem to be accompanied by low energy levels, a sloppy appearance, a negative attitude and the unwillingness to participate in activities that used to make them happy.

Unfortunately, many underage drivers are arrested for a DUI each year. According to New Jersey attorneys Levow & Associates, if a DUI occurs within 1000 ft of a school, consequences are even more severe. If this happens, your best recourse is to contact an experienced local attorney to help defend your teen in court.

If you have a good reason to believe that your teenager has a drinking problem, you should take steps to get them help before they end up in legal trouble.

Is My Child Safe Walking To School Alone?

Dangers of a Cross Walk
Dangers of a Cross Walk

Of course, the ideal situation would be for every mom to be able to personally drive their child to school, so all worries of what dangers lurk between home and school would cease to exist. Unfortunately, economic times have made this a luxury that only a few parents can afford. Most moms have to trust the bus drivers with their children or allow their children to walk to and from school.

It is a known fact that danger is everywhere at all times. Knowing this, mothers do tend to be overprotective at times. The following considerations should ease your mind and help you better prepare your child for a safe journey to school.

1) Planning the Route

If your schedule allows, it is always a good idea to walk with your child the first few times to ease any anxiety either of you may have. If this is not possible, consider doing a practice walk on a day that you do have time. This is important because it gives you a first person view of the potential dangers that your child may encounter on his way to school each day. As you detect obstacles or potential hazards, talk them over with your child. Give them guidance by providing solutions in advance should a problem arise. This will also provide an opportunity for them to ask questions, not to mention a great way to bond.

2) Cover the Basics

Whatever you do, don’t forget the basics. Most adults know that before crossing a street you are supposed to look left, right, then, left again. Sometimes, we forget that these were lessons that at some point were taught to us as well. So, do not assume that your child knows basic pedestrian safety protocol.

3) Crossing the Street

Now that you child knows the basics, it would be wise to get more in depth on road safety. If possible, plan to only cross where there are crossing lights or school crossing guards. Remind your child that not everyone follows the rules. So, even though the walk light may be lit, it is still better to check to make sure it is safe to cross. You may want to practice the school’s crossing guard hand signals so that he will know which one means it is safe to proceed.

It is imperative to stress the importance of yielding to traffic. Many children are killed each year in pedestrian and vehicular accidents. Some are even killed by their own school bus. According to Stokes & Kopitsky, “…motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Children also top the list of at-risk victims in accidents involving trucks, buses, and bikes.” So, please make sure your child is as prepared and protected as possible.

4) Emergency Plan

“Stranger Danger” is still as prevalent today as it was decades ago. Though, your child may be taught some precautions at school, it is a good idea to have your own emergency plan in place. This is the technology era, so you may want to consider giving your child a cell phone for such situations. Using code words is another way to safeguard your children. Decide on a word that only you and your child knows to use in case you have to send someone the child doesn’t know to pick them up from school. The “stranger” would tell the child the code word to let them know that they can be trusted.

5) Proper Outerwear

It is a “no brainer” that you would want your children to be warm in the winter and cool in spring. However, your child’s outerwear may need a little more consideration in certain regions. In some places, the sun rises late on winter mornings and it sets as early as 5pm. This means that it is not only cold outside, it is dark. You may want to consider providing your child with a reflective jacket or vest during these times. There are actually some fashionable footwear and backpacks that twinkle, which could be an option as well. A flashlight may also come in handy to avoid tripping as well as injuries. It would definitely be a bonus for the ones who are a little afraid of the dark.

Making sure that your child attends school each day is a must. Parents who have to trust their children to walk alone may be fearful of what will happen in their absence. The best option is to try to find other kids your child can walk with, because there is safety in numbers. There may also be another mother available to supervise them during their walk. As a last resort, you can call your child’s school to check in on them each morning until you feel confident in your child’s ability to walk alone safely.

Sadness and Dread Around the Holidays

Depression during the Holidays
Depression during the Holidays

There can be joy around the holidays for many, but as Christmas week gets closer some fears can grow about whether that time of the year will stimulate feelings of deeper loneliness and inner difficulties. A number of clients came in a few days before Thanksgiving with the dread of getting through the holidays. This also occurs right before Christmas.

For some people, there may be an apprehension about seeing certain family members. There can also be the fear of having nothing to do at all. Feelings of isolation can be accentuated during this time of year because it looks like everyone else is connecting and receiving care. Someone can also be physically surrounded by others but feel very alone and emotionally disconnected.

First of all, if you are supposed to see family members that you have a difficult history with, try to visualize the situation ahead of time. If you anticipate a lot of drama and negative interactions, evaluate whether the gathering makes sense. Can it possibly be an opportunity to have some private meaningful conversations that will help resolve issues from the past? Will there be any supportive people at the gathering or will you feel alone? Each family situation is different and depending on the ability for people to communicate and be honest, certain family dynamics may be too difficult to handle. Think about whether you can attend for a few hours and make the situation in YOUR control, rather than feel passive there. Remember, this can be a way to also turn around the negative history and get a new start.

Sit and visualize the people in your family with whom you have difficulties. Is it possible to see why they may behave the way they do and if there is a way you have contributed to the situation? Of course, certain situations that involved abuse or neglect may be ones where you were a victim and these are often very difficult to see with a new perspective. Some people are able to forgive through compassion and others find it more healthy to cut off contact and not be pulled back into unhealthy dramas. It really depends on the circumstances as well as the personalities involved. For someone with an inpatient psychiatric history, this time of year can be one to carefully watch. Many people are hospitalized around holiday time for mood issues and there can be lots of triggers and associations from the past.

If you are someone suffering from holiday depression due to having no family or loved one to spend time with, preparing ahead for Christmas is important. Do you have a friend in a similar situation? Would you feel better volunteering at a shelter or church function where you can help with meal preparation? This is a way you can feel good about helping others and be around others who volunteer.

Another way to get through the holidays is to remember that you aren’t at work or school for a few days. Are you near a nature center or area that you love? If you are in a warm climate, grabbing a book and a music player can be a way to have a day that is free of stress. You can also stay home and use the day for some meditation, a time of writing and a way to write out your visualizations for next year.

A home study course with yoga and meditation for depression can be studied and practiced during the Christmas week and open new doors. It can be very peaceful to be away from things and just turn inside. Speaking to a counselor a few times in December can be helpful in dealing with this time of year. Remember also that it’s easy to project on others that they are having a perfect time in their lives and to forget that there are tensions and strains in each person’s life which are tough challenges.

Students Being Discriminated Against Because of Their Hair

danielle-cook
Danielle Cook

In Baltimore City, Maryland, 13-year-old honor student Danielle Cook was denied admission into Cristo Rey Jesuit School because she has dreads as her natural hairstyle. After public pressure, it was only then that the school reverse its hairstyle policy ban. According to her mother, Danielle has been a straight A student since preschool.

Cristo Rey Jesuit School is a college preparatory institution, and the young eighth grader believed she fit the admission criteria. One of the teachers at Cristo Rey Jesuit School was quoted as stating,”Well, we don’t take kids with dreads”. Danielle Cook says the representative told her that Cristo Rey places students in work study and dreadlocks don’t look professional.

Lately, I have heard so much about natural hair and young African American female students are being punished for wearing their hair natural. As an African American female student with natural hair, I feel the need to address and explore this issue.

vanessa-vandyke
Vanessa Vandyke

There was another account involving 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke who attends Faith Christian Academy in Central Florida, but she was faced with expulsion. Vanessa’s school required that she either change her hairstyle or be expelled for a week.  How unfair is that and what type of message are we sending?

Vanessa, who loves the texture of her hair, talked to a local news channel in her area about her choice of hairstyle. “It says that I’m unique,” she said. Once again, school officials have reverse their policy after receiving public scrutiny. Why is natural hair such a problem for people and especially for children?

These little girls are 12 and 13 years of age who are both awesome students. This should not be a factor that determines whether they should be allowed to pursue or further their education nor should it bring on any type of punishment. Since when did the way a person wears their hair become a requirement for the type of education they can receive?

According to a consumer study Mintel conducted,

The percentage of black women who said they wore their hair natural jumped from 26 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2011. The shift from relaxed to natural is becoming so common that it has spurred growth of a whole new sub-segment of products for women who are ‘transitioning,’ “Our target is 70 percent African American and 30 percent other. A lot of other women – Jewish, Latina and red heads who tend to have coarse, wiry, coiled textured hair — are interested in these products. Caucasian women have curly hair, too. Read Full Article

For some, natural hair is a lifestyle choice to be free of using radical and dangerous chemicals to straighten hair for the purpose of confirming to societal norms. It is a sense of liberation. Whatever the reason, it’s just hair, and it should not be used as a way to define someone.

Stand Up and Speak Out: No Bullying Allowed

In recent news, a Florida teen was cleared of a felony charge of third-degree aggravated assault stalking  from bullying that led to the suicide of a 12-year-old girl in September. Rebecca Ann Sedwick had been ‘absolutely terrorized’ by the other girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death. The bullying apparently started over a ‘boyfriend issue’ at Crystal Lake Middle School.

Katelyn one of the girls accused stated, “No, I do not feel l did anything wrong.”Katelyn and a 14-year-old girl were charged last month after Polk County (Fla.) Sheriff Grady Judd saw a derogatory post on Facebook that he claims was written by one of them. The Facebook post said, “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but IDGAF [I don’t give a f—].”

Bullying is becoming a huge problem in today’s society.

  • Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.
  • More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats online
  • 1 in 7 students in grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying.
  • 56 percent of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.
  • Over two-thirds of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.

What can we do?

No_BullyingTeaching kids and teens that bullying is not cool is one of the first steps we can make in educating our youth. As adults, we should model the behavior we want our children to exhibit as well as encouraging them to report if they see bullying happening. By encouraging them to speak up, it recognizes that not saying anything is just as bad as participating.

Bullies are often victims of abuse themselves or are lashing out because of  low self-esteem and other personal issues in order to make themselves feel better. Bullies can also be the”popular” kids or teens that are liked by many of their peers and teachers. No matter who it is it should not be tolerated. Joking with your friends is one thing, but teasing someone to the point where they’re afraid to attend school, ride the bus etc is unacceptable.

Teachers should also take bullying serious and intervene when possible. Managing their classrooms, investigating and knowing their students, recognizing relationships between their students, creating rules that allow victims to confide in and trust them are all major steps in confronting this epidemic.

As hard as it may be, I think encouraging victims to speak up for themselves and tell someone they trust about the bullying is necessary to begin addressing the root of the problem. One of the most important things a person should demonstrate is respect for themselves and others. Identifying ways to increase self-esteem is the first line of defense against bullying which results into lower self worth and inferiority.

Early years are an important time for parents, teachers and other forces in the child’s life to enlighten them on how to relate with their peers. If we start there, I think we can make a difference.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s: The Challenges of a Caregiver

It is 5:23 AM in the morning, this is the third time that I’ve been up with my mom who is increasingly deteriorating from vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. “Oh God please God what is happening to me”, my mom says. “Did I do something wrong, am I going crazy? Please God, help me.”

Present day, my mom has to wear adult diapers with both urinary and bowel incontinence.  She is extremely embarrassed by these set of circumstances. She says, “I am an  89 year old woman, I am not a child.”  There are times when I hear my mom wish for her own death rather than continue to deal with the hand that she has been dealt. It is an insidious disease that creates havoc and makes it difficult for both the individual and the caregiver.  If not for a loving husband and sister who pitches in, I think I would have a nervous breakdown.

Carethey Wooten

It is difficult for me to watch, a once a vibrant strong African-American woman who is now confused, scared and extremely fragile. Here is a woman who said to me as a child, “You must always walk with pride and dignity because when you walk down the street you are carrying Negro womanhood with you.” She meant it because she lived it. In 1968 when there was a major teachers strike in New York city, she was one of the many parents who kept the schools open teaching their children. It was a strike that lasted several months not several weeks.

It was a strike that led many parents to fight for parental control in their schools. It led to something called decentralized schools. Almost 40 years later, the mayor of New York City used sensationalized anecdotal information to gain control of the schools once again. My mom spent almost 30 years in the school system as an assistant teacher working with difficult children teaching them to read. Not only did she do this for a living, she would tutor neighborhood children. There are many children that can point to my mother, including my own son, as the one responsible for them enjoying reading today.  Not too long ago, I even met a position on my job who pointed out my mother has keeping him on the straight and now. He said your mom was Mrs. Wooten, Mrs. Wooten, Wow she used to keep me in line and grade school. I was a real menace at that time.

You would think that having worked in behavioral health care for 10 years, I would have the requisite skills to be a caregiver and deal with my situation. However, when working with your own family, it makes it that much more difficult. I am now about to take caregiver training classes on dementia from the agency that provides home attendants for my mom.  It is my hope that this training will further my knowledge of this disease and provide the much-needed coping skills I need as caregiver.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDDSk-L-R90[/youtube]

Simple Ways To Improve Restricted Breathing Habits

How can you make a mistake when you breathe? After all, you’ve been able to survive this far! If you’ve observed your body, breath and posture when you are anxious before a meeting or around a stressful relationship you’ll often find a few characteristics. The shoulders may be raised up high and the breathing may be chest breathing with shallow breaths. Breathing can also be irregular when we are under stress. In yoga teachings they say that many people often take fifteen breaths in a minutes. With practice, one can slow it down to four or five breaths per minute. Breathing is natural and doesn’t seem like something we can improve, but having inner tension can result in shallow and jerky breathing patterns. In yoga and meditation, often breaths such as alternate nostril breathing, breath of fire and segmented breaths are used to help the body and mind relax.

BreathingTry to watch what your breathing pattern is when you have tension around work, school, family, money or other concerns. Don’t judge yourself, but just look at it. If you start criticizing yourself, you are adding in additional thoughts that can result in agitation. Just watch where you hold the tension. Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders close to your ears? Do you feel that your breath is incomplete?

One way to check is to make a contrast. If you have a view from your house or are near a natural setting, see what the quality of your breathing is when you look at something beautiful. How does the rest of your body feel? One of my clients who is a teenager told me she never gets headaches when she sleeps at her grandmother’s house. We all have settings where we know our breathing is deeper and more relaxed. Music can also have that effect and that is easy to use in the house or when you can’t get to a natural setting.

Put a Light Pillow On Your Belly To Practice

Years ago, I took a yoga class and the instructor had a place a light pillow on our bellies while we were on our backs. This is a good way to practice diaphragmatic breathing. The belly will rise up, towards the sky with the inhale. That is how a baby breathes. This helps the lungs inflate with oxygen. It is called “paradoxical” breathing when the opposite pattern occurs. Many people inhale and the belly goes in, chest tightens and shoulders go up. Try to practice ten minutes a day with a pillow on your belly and watch feel it rise when you inhale.

Jody’s School Stress

Two years ago I had a 15 year old client who went to a private school and she felt inferior due to her family’s low income situation. She only had a “flip” phone and her clothing was not from well-known designer brands. Though on one level, she knew that status symbols were shallow, she also felt it hurt her social life.

I encouraged her to let others see her creative sides as she made excellent animations and was talented in drawing. She was too shy to do this, but did want to have more inner tranquility. I showed her this breathing (pranayama ) meditation and she found it was quite helpful when she fell into comparisons with others.

A Pranayama Meditation

This is a kundalini yoga meditation taught in a 1971 class by Yogi Bhajan.

In the first part, sit comfortably with hands in the lap and have the tip of the thumb touch the tip of the index finger with relaxed hands. It’s fine to sit in a chair or on the ground cross-legged. Breathe slowly, filling the belly, then ribs and finally upper chest. Hold the breath for ten seconds and then exhale for five seconds. If it is too long to hold it for ten seconds, then reduce the time so it’s comfortable. This can be done for a few minutes and then another minute can be added where the holding period of the breath is increased a few seconds longer. Feel the breath and bring the mind back to the inhalation and exhalation as thoughts arise.

In the second part, close your eyes and look mentally at the third eye point. Close off the right nostril using your thumb and take a nice, slow inhalation through the left nostril. Hold it for fifteen to twenty seconds. Then close off the left nostril and exhale through the right in four sniffs. Do this same pattern for three to four minutes (inhaling through the left side and exhaling in four sniffs through the right side.). After doing this, try to do two more minutes with the same pattern, except you’ll exhale with 8 sniffs rather than four sniffs. This has a calming effect on the mind and body. The thoughts may continue, but the mind has a different relation to them.

Thanksgiving: All Grown Up and Nowhere To Go

Dorm room

Once a young person turns 18 and leaves the foster care system, they should be ready to do what other young adults do–go to college or get a job, right? The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program assists youth by providing assistance in achieving self-sufficiency after leaving foster care. Through supports such as the Educational and Training Vouchers Program (ETV), former foster youth can receive financial assistance with college expenses.

Research has shown that the foster care population generally has poor outcomes as they transition to adulthood. The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth found that former foster youth experienced significant challenges including high rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment. As recently as a decade ago, college was not an option for most young adults leaving the foster care program. Fortunately, there are now supports and assistance available so that more former foster youth are able to attend college, providing them the education they need to be competitive in today’s workforce.

No doubt, many former foster youth now have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. They have opportunities that few of their predecessors had just 10 to 15 years ago. The reality is, new challenges have emerged.

Many former foster youth must live in dormitories and other college-sponsored housing. Often they do not have the resources required for off-campus housing such as a security deposit to rent an apartment, furniture, and other household items. Most of us had parents or guardians that could help with these items. Former foster youth rarely have this luxury. Living in dormitories may provide an excellent transition for vulnerable young adults. However, there is often a ‘catch’ to this….most colleges and universities close down their housing (and food service) during extended breaks such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This leaves former foster youth with the challenge of finding housing and meals during the holidays.  Options such as spending the holidays with family may not be possible for young adults who were separated from their families as children due to abuse or neglect. Generally, options such as staying at a hotel and dining out are beyond the financial means of former foster youth. If they are lucky, a young person may have friends with whom they can spend holidays. However, this may not always be possible, especially if the young person has a part-time job.

In case you were thinking there is little you can do to address this problem, the following are some suggestions for getting involved.

1) Offer to host a former foster youth in your community for the holidays. Maybe your son or daughter has a former classmate who was in foster care. Or maybe you know of a young person through your community/social circles. Just because they haven’t asked for help, doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some help.

2) Suggest that members of your church or other civic organization work together to develop a network of supports/resources for youth who have aged out of foster care. In addition to helping tackle the housing issue, this might include a drive to collect household items such as sheets, blankets, towels or school supplies for college-bound foster youth.

3) Donate gift cards to places like Boston Market, Applebee’s, or Perkins so that college students can enjoy a meal (something other than fries and a burger…) over the holidays. You can contact your local child welfare agency or non-profit foster care agencies to assist with making the connection to young people in need of support. Or if you know of a young person who could use a helping hand, you can give it to them directly (or anonymously by mail).

4) Talk with local colleges/universities about setting up a faculty ‘host a student’ program. Through such a program, faculty can host a former foster youth for the holidays. The advantage is that the faculty member may already know the young person and they likely live in the same community as the college/university. This may also provide an excellent mentoring opportunity that can have a positive, long-term effect for the student.

5) Talk with the local high school about setting up a ‘host family’ program. Former teachers or coaches could host students during holiday breaks.

6) Talk with your local colleges/universities about setting up a holiday housing program in dormitories for former foster youth. Often there are also foreign students who also need housing. (Many larger universities offer some sort of accommodations.)

7) Check with your local YMCA, YWCA, or similar programs to see if they have temporary housing available. If so, offer to ‘pay it forward’ for a young person in need of housing over the holidays by providing rent (if there is a charge).

8) If you don’t have the space in your home to host a young person (or if you opted to assist as suggested in #7), invite students to participate in your holiday meal.

9) Support local foster parents who provide assistance to the young adults previously in their care. Offer to assist with buying school or work clothes. Donate grocery gift cards to offset the cost of food.

10) Provide transportation to college students who may have the opportunity to spend the holidays with former foster parents, friends, or family who do not live in the same community. This may be in the form of a bus or train ticket, airfare, or driving the student to their destination. This may also apply when a young person attends a college/university in a community other than the one they lived in prior to age 18. What may seem like a short distance to travel can present insurmountable obstacles for a young person setting off for college with no car and limited resources.

These are just a few suggestions, please feel free to add your ideas to the list!

Tips for Making a Presentation That Will Keep Kids’ Attention

When you are presenting to children, keeping them interested and engaged in what you are saying can feel like a constant battle. Keeping multiple students engaged at the same time, while still getting important material across, without becoming a dog and pony show is difficult. So what are some ways to improve a presentation so the kids stay interested, and you aren’t completely worn out by the middle of the day? Here are some ideas.

1. Relate Subjects to the Students

History and math can quickly become boring if students don’t understand why these subjects are important to them or how they relate to their lives. Try to introduce a subject by first discussing a common problem the kids might face that relates in some way to the subject being taught. Incorporating that problem into the homework and other school tasks will help students remember why it is important as well.

TacumaDancing052. Get Active

Not even adults like to sit quietly all day. Instead, have students stand up, clap, chant, and sing. These are things that every student can participate in at once and directly involves them in the learning process.

3. Use Humor

Humor is a great attention getter, relieves tension, and can help students relax into a difficult subject. Find clever ways to incorporate humor into the presentation so it doesn’t get you off topic but helps to convey the important information.

4. Use Technology

There are many options today for teachers to use technology to keep students engaged. YouTube offers a host of educational content that can bring a subject to life. There are also presentation programs that are more interesting than a basic PowerPoint, such as Prezi. Courseware can be used for small groups of students that are either ahead of or behind the rest of the class, and holding surveys via electronic remotes ensures that every student is thinking about a problem, not just the one that raises his or her hand.

5. Provide Structure

Children, especially younger children, need structure to know where they are supposed to be and how they are supposed to act. Start early setting this structure by requiring every all students to be sitting quietly at their desks before you begin. Make the ending of a presentation obvious by providing a clear transition, such as switching seats or giving a call to action.

6. Use Visuals

Visuals are a great way to grab students’ attention and engage them in a discussion about a topic. Pictures, cartoons, puppets, or other small displays are especially important for younger children who have a hard time grasping difficult concepts with words alone.

7. Be Engaging

The presenter also needs to be engaging or the students will immediately shut down as soon as the funny video or survey discussion is over. Alternate the pitch and tone of your voice frequently, use hand gestures, and show your own interest in the subject. Doing these things may be outside of your comfort zone, but remember teaching is about the students, not the teacher, so think about how you can change your teaching style so students start to get more out of presentations.

“Fat Letters” How Insensitive Can You Be

In recent news reports, there have been many parents outraged about notes sent home to them explaining that their child is considered to be obese. “Fat letters” are what the children have deemed the notifications, and they are being sent out in children’s weekly folders in certain schools. There are currently 19 states sending these letters home, three of which include Florida, California and Massachusetts. In the letters are different methods that parents can use to help lower their child’s weight such as exercise, preparing healthier meals etc. When Lilly Grasso recently brought home a letter from her Naples, Florida middle school, her mother, Kristen Grasso, became angry. The letter claimed that Lilly’s body mass index or BMI was 22, and it indicated that she was at risk for being overweight. The 11-year-old star volleyball player carries 124 pounds on an athletic 5-foot-3 frame and eats healthy foods.

How irresponsible and  insensitive is it to send these letters out in a child’s personal folder? For one, imagine how these children must feel being considered “fat.” It is obvious that these letters are viewed by these kids prior to being sent home because they are put inside the children’s folders. Could reading these letters further damage a child’s self-esteem while dealing with puberty and other issues that may arise during the adolescence stage? Is it possible for a child who reads their “fat letter”  to make the more susceptible to bullying from other children by lowering their self-esteem even more?

According to the Center of Disease and Health Control,

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period
  • In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese
  • Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Obesity is defined as having excess body fat
  • Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors

The facts on obesity are undisputed, but this is an issue that a child should have to read about in their personal folders. I believe this is something that teachers should be addressing with the parent on a one-on-one basis. Additionally, telling a parent they should cook more “healthy meals,”  can be taken as a little judgmental. What if a parent is receiving food stamps or other governmental assistance, it can be extremely hard to buy or afford healthy foods. Consider the parent living in a low-income neighborhood where they do not have access to Whole Foods Markets and have to choose between a costly pack of salad or a lesser expensive pack of meat.

California happens to be one of 19 states that require schools to screen for obesity, and they do so using the body mass index test (BMI), and a height-to-weight ratio measurement that is used by doctors to designate if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Ironically, schools that have adopted this practice of sending these notifications have not managed to change any of their lunch menus while still serving fried corn dogs, pizza, fried chicken, and other unhealthy foods.

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