Keeping classroom sizes small for higher student achievement

School

When choosing a school for your child, many factors have to be considered. For example, the teaching style, the location, and the curriculum are important criteria to take into account.

Another crucial factor is class size. Many studies have shown that the lower the student-teacher ratio, the higher the student achievement. The article, “How important is class size?,” published on http://www.GreatSchools.org, showed that there are many advantages to lowering class size to fewer than 20 students. This is especially true in the early grades and with children who come from disadvantaged or non-native English-speaking households. “Students are less likely to be retained, more likely to stay in school and more likely to earn better grades.”

“What are the Advantages of Small Class Sizes?,” on http://www.methodschools.org, explains why small classrooms may have huge advantages over larger ones. For one thing, they are quieter. There are not as many students moving around, getting up to sharpen their pencils, going out to use the restrooms, or shuffling papers. For another, it’s easier for teachers to give more one-on-one attention to students, especially those who need more help as well as those who learn faster and need additional work to keep them from getting bored and restless.

Students in smaller classes also get to know one another better and are more likely to develop closer friendships with their peers. They may, therefore, be more inclined to reach out to them when they have questions or need help on a project or skill.

Discipline is also easier and disruptions more manageable with fewer kids, so instead of time being spent on behavioral issues, the focus can be on the actual teaching. In addition, smaller classes cut down on administrative duties. For example, taking attendance, passing out papers and grading assignments take less time, which allows the teacher to spend more energy on his or her students.

Don Ernst, director of government relations with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), said in the article Are Smaller Classes the Answer? on http://www.educationworld.com, that “smaller class size enhances learning for a basic common-sense reason — it helps teachers in getting to know the kids. You can get to know 19 kids better than you can get to know 30 kids.” Teachers can then figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and tailor their instruction to meet those needs.

Most states, such as Virginia, have standards of quality in place regarding class size in public schools. To give an example, for grades one, two, and three there should be a ratio of 24 students to one teacher with no class being larger than 30 students.

However, many private schools tend to keep class sizes even smaller. A study by The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) showed that “two of the top five reasons parents gave for choosing a private school are ‘smaller class sizes’ (48.9 %) and ‘more individual attention for my child’ (39.3%). The other three reasons were better student discipline, better learning environment, and improved student safety, all of which are influenced by class size.”

Academic gains are not the only benefit of lowering class size. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that reducing class sizes in elementary schools may be more cost-effective than most public health and medical interventions. This is because “students in smaller classes are more likely to graduate from high school, and high school graduates earn more and also enjoy significantly better health than high school dropouts.”

The NCTE also stated in the article Why Class Size Matters Today, that “researchers have found that reducing class size can influence socioeconomic factors including earning potential, improved citizenship, and decreased crime and welfare dependence. The beneficial effects of being assigned to a small class also include an increased probability of attending college.”

Of course, there are many factors that determine a child’s educational success, such as the leadership of a school, the quality of the teachers and curriculum, the home environment, and academic aptitude. But research has shown time and again that keeping the class size on the smaller side is one way to make sure children get the attention and focus of the teacher that they need to succeed, in school and in life.

Written for Viva Tysons magazine in Tysons, VA

Bring in the spring with colorful, fun treats while helping children learn new skills

Kids Baking

March can be a tricky month. One week we can have a warm and sunny day followed by a cold and blustery one. It may even snow. Some of our biggest storms have happened in March.

Because of this, it’s somewhat difficult to make plans. Although winter is on its way out and we’re eager to get outdoors, those plans don’t always work out. Children especially have a hard time being stuck inside and tend to develop cabin fever much quicker than adults.

Why not then plan some fun things to do in the house? It’s even better when we can combine something the kids will enjoy with learning new skills.

Baking is one of these perfect activities. Not only will children love mixing the ingredients and decorating the cakes and cookies, but they will also learn how to make something from scratch, instead of buying it in a store, ready-made.

To make things even more interesting, use cookie cutters shaped like flowers and bunnies and anything else that will make them smile. And when those cookies and cupcakes are ready for decorating, use pastel icings, dyed sugars and bright sprinkles to bring some spring color indoors. Make them festive and fun to liven up an otherwise gray day.

Besides being a great way to pass the time indoors, another benefit of baking is that children can also acquire some useful skills in math and science. Depending on the child’s age, you can make it as easy or as hard as you like. For example, with little kids, if a recipe calls for 2 eggs, ask them how many they would need in order to double the recipe. Or, for older children, if it says ½ of a teaspoon of salt, ask them how much they would need if you were to cut the recipe in half.

For science, explain what baking soda and baking powder do and why you need them in some recipes. Or, if making bread, give them information about yeast and how it makes the dough rise. These are quick and entertaining ways to teach children some basics while they learn how to make delicious cookies or crusty bread.

After all this, if the sun eventually does come out, gather up all the treats you’ve made and have a picnic outdoors. Just remember to pack some cold milk with those cookies, and you’re all set.

Simple Spring Sugar Cookies

Ingredients
• 1-½ cup Sugar
• 1 cup Butter softened for flat thinner cookies (or you can use Butter Crisco, for fluffier cookies)
• 3 whole Egg Yolks
• ½ teaspoons Vanilla
• 2-½ cups Flour
• ½ teaspoons Baking Soda
• 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
• 1 pinch Salt
• Various Colored Sugars, for Garnish

Preparation
Cream sugar and butter (or Crisco) until light and fluffy, then add egg yolks and mix well. Add vanilla extract. Add remaining dry ingredients (except the colored sugar, which is a garnish) and mix until mixture becomes a soft dough. Chill in the refrigerator for 1–3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Roll dough into 1″ or 1 1/2″ balls and roll in colored sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheets about 2″ apart and bake for about 12 minutes.

Enjoy!

Recipe credit: Brandy’s Baking.

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada

Putting a stop to the increase in teen suicides

Be the solution for teens in crises

Teens are under enormous pressure to succeed both academically and socially. Social media also heightens feelings of inadequacy by making everything and everyone seem perfect, and trying to live up to these high standards can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Once a person feels overwhelmed or without hope, it’s crucial for them to get the help they need, and fast. Thinking that they’ll just get over it eventually and waiting for the crises to pass is not the solution.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 5 to 24. They found that “suicide attempts may be associated with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss.” To put a stop to these feelings, some teens feel that suicide may be the only option.

As reported in the 2018 article “Teen suicide is soaring. Do spotty mental health and addiction treatment share blame?” by Jayne O’Donnell and Anne Saker in USA TODAY, “The suicide rate for white children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 70% between 2006 and 2016, the latest data analysis available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although black children and teens kill themselves less often than white youth do, the rate of increase was higher — 77%.”

There are things that can be done to prevent these tragedies, but quick intervention is key. Knowing about the causes, signs and risk factors can save lives.

Suicide rates are actually on the rise in the US, despite the myriad of resources available for help. “Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.”

While speaking about suicide, it’s important to note the differences surrounding this topic. The National Institute of Mental Health breaks them down into three types:

• Suicide – death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior.
• A suicide attempt – a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt might not result in injury.
• Suicidal ideation – thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.

Parents, caregivers, teachers and others who deal with teenagers should be on the lookout for signs that a teen is at risk for suicide. Some of these may include withdrawing from friends and family as well as activities that they used to enjoy. A decline in school grades, giving away beloved possessions, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and a more than passing interest in death and dying are other possible indicators. Some teens may even directly express their wishes such as saying “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.”

Other risk factors to take into account are if the teenager is a victim of bullying, has a family history of mental illness or suicide, has access to firearms, and/or is exposed to violence.

As stressed by the AACAP, speaking to teens about depression and suicide is critical. People shouldn’t fear that bringing it up will put the possibility into the person’s head and therefore lead to its occurrence. Some of the questions they recommend asking are:

• Are you feeling sad or depressed?
• Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
• Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, the teen needs immediate help and encouragement to speak with someone they feel comfortable with, be it a parent, teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or clergy person. In addition, they should call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone and all calls are confidential. In Virginia, they can also go to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at https://www.sprc.org/states/virginia for a list of people and agencies that can assist.

Help is available. With the right knowledge, awareness, and interventions, teen suicides can be prevented.

Written for Viva Tysons magazine in Tysons, VA

Modern Midtown Style at 999 Peachtree

Modern officeSurfboardsSkull.-150x150

Christina Pumphrey has always been interested in the arts. When it came time for her to pick a major in college, she chose interior design since this was a profession she knew she would enjoy.

Later on, she and a friend, Ursula Holly, who lives in Tallahassee, FL, would start C’Décor, their very own design business. Ursula is so talented, said her friend, that her home was featured in Architectural Digest. The two worked together often until marriage and children consumed most of their time and energy, leaving little for the business. Now, it’s more of a hobby for both of them.

However, Christina was able to use her interior design background once again when her husband, Dr. Brock Pumphrey, renewed his office lease and was given some money to freshen up the place. Christina took on the challenge and decided to give the office a whole new look. Today, her husband’s practice, Midtown Center for Advanced Periodontics, Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry, is a showcase. Located at 999 Peach Tree Street, it’s right in the heart of Midtown.

“Midtown is a fun and vibrant area, and my style is contemporary/modern,” said Christina. Since the practice is located in such a lively area, she wanted to go with bold designs. The walls and doors are white, with black trim and dark floors, so the art work really needed to stand out. It’s really bright and funky, she explained, which she feels is a good fit with the neighborhood. Some of the artwork is shaped liked surfboards and made of acrylic glass and another piece is constructed in a 3D pattern. These are not your standard rectangular painted canvases. Hanging on the wall in the x-ray area is a huge skull. She wasn’t sure how that would go over, but patients think it’s great.

“I wanted to do something fun and modern and spunky. Staff and patients love it, especially the art work. It’s super bright,” said Christina. She found a lot of it at Atlanta’s Mart where designers can go to find all sorts of treasures. She will also sometimes go to the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (ADAC), which is another great resource for designers.

“Modern is having a big comeback,” said Christina. “In Atlanta, a lot of the new buildings are ultra-modern, very Miami.” However, even though her style is contemporary and she gravitates more towards the clean, streamlined look, she feels that there are really beautiful ways of doing traditional design.

“What’s in and out is all relative,” she stated. She tries not to follow super trends, because then she’s just setting herself up for being out of trend within 10 years. Christina likes to mix it up. She doesn’t think having one solid style is very interesting.

One thing she has noticed recently is that designers will buy a really cool antique piece and refurbish it to make it look more new age. Since antique furniture was built so well, and it’s really hard to find good solid furniture nowadays, giving it an updated look is a great way to make it fit while being functional.

Christina had a great time redoing her husband’s office and gets a lot of satisfaction from knowing how much he and his patients enjoy it. She and Brock, who met in college in Tallahassee, have been married for close to eight years, have two children, Brock Jr. age 6 and Pierce, age 4, and live in Buckhead, Atlanta.

One day, when the children are older and don’t need her around so much, Christina hopes to be able to give more time to her and Ursula’s interior decorating business. Until then, she’ll enjoy going into her husband’s office and seeing the beautiful transformation she has made.

Christina’s tips on design:

• Declutter – the first thing you should do is put things away. Finding a spot for everything will give the room a clean, fresh look.

• Use natural muted tones for walls and furniture. For fun pops of color, use throw pillows or throws. If you’re going to buy something really funky, try not to spend too much money on it because you’ll likely get tired of it after a while. You can get then get rid of it without feeling guilty. Afterwards, you will once again be left with that original blank slate and can change it up according to your new style or current trends. Christina said that this is what she did with the office and the same thing she does with her own home. Her furniture is gray, white, and taupe, so that way she can reinvent it whenever she wants.

• If you have children and/or pets, cover your furniture and walls with fabrics and paint that you can wipe off. Also avoid white and keep fabrics on the darker side which will camouflage stains. Look for places that offer COM (customer’s own material.) There are stores in Atlanta where you can buy unfinished furniture and then pick out the fabric you want on it, either in that store or from another one. This way you can get easy to clean and durable fabric on the furniture that fits your room and style.

• Have fresh flowers in the house. A bouquet is a great design tool and lends color and beauty to any room.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta, Georgia

Every note cover

In her latest book, Every Note Played, Lisa Genova explores the complexity of forgiveness in the face of tragedy. How does a person let go of a series of wrongs in order to do the right thing?

Richard Evans is known throughout the world for his concert piano skills. His fans adore him, other musicians aspire to play like him, and women want to be with him. However, when he finds himself diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), no one wants to know him. He is all alone in the world, except for an ex-wife whom he hurt and betrayed time and again and a daughter who he barely knows. He chose the piano, touring and other women instead of being with his family. Now alone and becoming more and more helpless, Richard realizes the mistakes he has made. But is it too late to make amends?

Karina, his ex-wife, has been trying to move on for the last few years without much success. She is in the same house, doing the same job, and is filled with anger for the life she never had. She also wanted to be a successful pianist and was, in fact, much better than Richard when they were starting out. But when she got pregnant, she let her dreams slide away. She loves her daughter, but still blames her ex-husband for being a part of losing herself. However, she has some things to be forgiven for as well. She had her own secrets during their marriage.

When Richard can no longer live by himself and doesn’t have the resources for round-the-clock care, who will step up to help him during the last stages of his life? Will it be Karina, who can barely stand to look at him, or his daughter Grace, who is filled with resentment for having a father who was never around?

Genova shows the devastation of a disease that has no cure and slowly robs its victims of every function, until it takes away life itself. She also portrays the power of family and what forgiveness can do for the soul.

Lisa Genova lives in the United States and is a New York Times best-selling author who has appeared on Dr. Oz, the TODAY show, CNN, PBS Newshour, and NPR. She has a degree in Biopsychology and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. To find out more about her, please go to https://www.lisagenova.com/.

Written for The Felixstowe Magazine in the U.K.