The Total Child

Connecting Student Learning to Real-World Experience with Green Apple Day of Service

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Guest post by Anisa Heming, Director, Center for Green Schools at USGBC

When student-led community service projects connect to what students are learning in the classroom, the benefits are endless. With environmental service projects, students are able to connect classroom curriculum to the real-world consequences of their actions on their communities.

Green Apple November 2018
Courtesy of USGBC. Students at Cordova Middle School in Tennessee learn from their district’s sustainability staff about air quality monitors they will be using to take measurements around their school.

Green Apple Day of Service, an international effort to improve learning environments and prepare the next generation of global leaders in sustainability, acts as a critical link between classroom instruction and practical application. Each year, Green Apple Day of Service participants set their project date for any time throughout the school year and work with their communities to provide sustainable and healthy learning environments and increase sustainability literacy in students and their families.

Though putting together meaningful and effective service projects with a school community may seem daunting, Green Apple Day of Service projects can be as simple or as in-depth as the school needs or wants. The best approach to creating a project is identifying a critical sustainability issue for the school and framing the project to address that issue. The Green Apple Day of Service website offers project ideas with curriculum connections as well as planning resources to help schools create and implement a project. Small mini-grants are available to help with project materials and supplies.

 Courtesy of USGBC.Students at Common Ground High School in Connecticut discuss green careers with a professional from their community.

Here are some exemplary projects from past years to help get you inspired for your own project.  

Tilling the Common Ground between High School Students and Green Professionals

At Common Ground High School last year, students met with sustainability professionals to get inspired and grow their understanding of green career paths. A dozen sustainability professionals in different fields were on hand to talk with students about their education backgrounds and career paths, and students could choose which professionals to sit with for ten minutes each in what the organizers called a “speed greening” event. Students were inspired by the professionals’ dedication to making the world a better place, and both groups left the day feeling encouraged and focused on a sustainable future.

This project was supported by Common Ground’s local Green Building Council. If you’re feeling inspired to create your own speed greening project and can’t find local professionals through your USGBC community, then check out Nepris to connect your students with sustainability professionals remotely.

Anti-Idling Campaign  

Cordova Middle School students recognized the health risks linked to vehicle exhaust and the significant population of people living with asthma in their area. To address these issues, the students led an anti-idling campaign around the school to reduce the exposure to vehicle exhaust that is inevitably created from the student pick-up and drop-off car lanes. The students educated their community on the dangers of vehicle exhaust and the benefits of simply turning cars off while stopped. Using donated Personal Air Monitoring devices, students tracked air emissions around the school in order to measure the effectiveness of the campaign. The results showed significant decreases in carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and the students are continuing their campaign to further improve air quality around their school.

If you’re inspired by this project, checkout the Raise Awareness of Outdoor Air Risks project idea for guidance and resources to plan a similar project.

Feeling inspired to join the movement? Register your project before March 15, 2019 to be eligible for $200 mini-grants.

Halloween, Day of the Dead and Grieving Students

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The Coalition to Support Grieving Students  ( developed guidelines which highlight considerations for educators on how to address students who may be grieving  during Halloween and the Day of the Dead. AASA is a member of the Coalition.

The following was originally posted on the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement's (NCSCB) website. NCSCB is a lead founding member of the coalition.The following content is a cross post of that content.

The Day of the Dead

Festivals, parades, and group celebrations, held on November 1-2 during All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, are used in some cultures as a way to remember and honor friends and family members who have died. Families may visit cemeteries and build private altars where pictures and memorabilia of the deceased, along with their favorite foods and beverages, are offered to encourage visits by the souls of their loved ones. Through these rituals those who are alive demonstrate their love and respect for those who have died. The Day of the Dead is a lively and joyful celebration with a goal of sustaining the memory and spirit of those that have passed onto another phase after their life on earth.

The 2017 Disney film “Coco” follows a 12-year-old Mexican boy and shows the continuing bond between the living and deceased ancestors. Miguel, who dreams of being a musician, is accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead, where he is helped by his deceased great-great grandfather to return him to family among the living and honor the true legacy of his deceased family member. Day of the Dead celebrations, common throughout Latin America, appear in other media and are becoming more popular in the United States. As such, children unfamiliar with this cultural tradition may have questions about the holiday. Conversations about the Day of the Dead can be an opportunity to start important conversations about what it means, and how it feels, when someone you care about has died.

 For those children grieving the death of someone close to them, celebrations that remind them that loved ones can still exist in our memories and in our hearts can bring some comfort. But it may also be confusing to children who are unfamiliar with the tradition. And it may serve as a grief trigger, reminding grieving children of not only their continuing connection to those who have died, but also their persistent longing to be reunited and sorrow about the loss.

Checking In: What To Say

Many children may embrace the rich cultural traditions of the Day of the Dead as a way they can maintain their family legacy and their continuing bond with their deceased loved one. Grief triggers, sudden reminders of the person who died that cause powerful emotional responses, can be unsettling for other grieving students. Often, by anticipating triggers, education professional scan help minimize their effect. For example, an educator might ask a student directly whether Day of the Dead celebrations, or events related to Halloween that occur just prior, are part of their family traditions or if they have been troubling. “The Day of the Dead and Halloween celebrations can bring a lot of focus to death. I wonder if it’s bothering you, or if you have any thoughts about it.” An educational professional might also take a more general approach with a non-specific check-in. “I’ve been thinking about you lately, and wondering how things are going. It’s been a few months since your sister died. I imagine you think about her a lot.” 

 If a classroom activity is going to specifically address the Day of the Dead or Halloween, teachers can talk with a grieving student ahead of time, describe the activity, see if it sounds okay, and offer an alternative if needed. It’s also a good idea to introduce such activities in the classroom with sensitivity. Teachers can’t know everything that has happened in the lives of their students and what family traditions are followed. Offering options to all students, even when you are unaware that any student in your class may be grieving, can allow students to choose activities that help them minimize potential triggers.

 Halloween and Grieving Students: A Check-in Can Help

Halloween As a Grief Trigger

Halloween themes can be provocative at times. Children and teens often pick costumes that will give them attention, cause reactions from their peers and adults, and help them assume the identity of a hero (e.g. Superman). Many choose costumes that confront their fears of death.

Sometimes costumes or decorations reflect actual elements of the death a student is grieving—an injury, illness, or shooting for example. More often, the general focus on death, darkness, and fear may be enough to serve as a grief trigger for some students. Some may be troubled at the lightheartedness and humor being brought to the topic of death.

Checking In: What To Say

Triggers, sudden reminders of the person who died that cause powerful emotional responses, can be unsettling for grieving students. Often, by anticipating triggers, education professionals can help minimize their effect.  

For example, an educator might ask a student directly whether Halloween celebrations have been troubling. “I know these things are not like what happened when your dad died last summer,but Halloween does bring a lot of focus to death. I wonder if it’s bothering you, or if you have any thoughts about it.”

 An educational professional might also take a more general approach with a non-specific check-in. “I’ve been thinking about you lately, and wondering how things are going. It’s been a few months since your sister died. I imagine you think about her a lot.”

If a classroom activity is going to specifically address Halloween, teachers can talk with a grieving student ahead of time, describe the activity, see if it sounds okay, and offer an alternative if it doesn’t.

It’s also a good idea to introduce activities in the classroom with sensitivity and provide some different options. Students can be asked to wear costumes of their favorite hero rather than a costume which depicts “spooky” characters. Teachers can’t know everything that has happened in the lives of their students.
Offering options to all students, even when you are unaware that any student in your class may be grieving, can allow students to choose activities that help them avoid triggers.

Great Leadership Starts When We Stop Looking Down

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The following is a guest post by Jonathan Raymond, former superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District from 2009-2013.

In a structure as rigid and hierarchical as the public school system, what is the most important role of a leader? Here’s my answer in a nutshell: Faced with a vertical org chart, great leaders cultivate relationships that are emotionally horizontal. In other words, leaders make themselves emotionally accessible to their colleagues by forging relationships through trust, communication, collaboration, and empathy.

By their very nature, hierarchical org charts encourage top-down thinking: Unless you’re at the very bottom, there’s always someone beneath you. When I served as Sacramento’s Superintendent of Schools, the school board was “above” me, while the city’s school principals, administrators, staff, and teachers were “below.” Where were the children? Technically, I guess they were below the teachers. Where were families and the larger community? Technically, not there at all.

What’s wrong with this picture? As I quickly learned, pretty much everything. Let’s start at the very lowest point on the chart: the children. Can public education fulfill its promise through a top-down process where the only role of the child is to absorb the impact of decisions made many rungs above them? Its founders didn’t think so.

John Dewey, who helped design the 19th century public school system, championed what we today call Whole Child education. School, he asserted, is primarily a social institution, a “form of community life” in which children learn through two internal functions: the social and the emotional. “The child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education.”

 John Dewey, surrounded by children, celebrating his 90th birthday in 1949.
The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.”
– John Dewey

For Dewey, the role of the teacher was not to issue orders, but to connect to an activity initiated independently by the child. Anything else he considered “pressure from without” – otherwise known as top-down mandates. Dewey and his fellow education reformers like Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner promoted collaborative and cooperative teaching methods. Teachers, they believed, should honor each child as an individual, behaving as mentors, with care and compassion.

As superintendent, I found myself living out this model, first finding ways to develop close working relationships with our school board and listening to the voices of Sacramento’s children (and by extension their families) and centering our decisions around their needs. As I detailed in my recent book Wildflowers: A School Superintendent’s Challenge to America, the more I listened, the more obvious it became that a meaningful 21st century education requires reciprocity, a meeting of the minds between adults and children in an atmosphere of mutual respect. We can’t prepare our youth for the challenges of tomorrow by holding them at arm’s length, lecturing to them from afar, and excluding them from decisions affecting their education. Whole Child, Whole Family, and Whole Community education requires us to forge relationships built on humility, curiosity, and empathy. Start by listening.

Similarly, the relationship between teachers and school administrators is rendered nonfunctional by rigid adherence to hierarchy. The chronic burn-out and disillusionment experienced by so many talented educators is not inevitable, nor can we blame it on the impoverished circumstances of the communities many of our best teachers serve. I know this to be true because – in the toughest test of leadership I ever faced – my district defied state and federal bureaucracies and essentially transformed our lowest performing schools into labs for Whole Child learning, known as the Superintendent’s Priority Schools.

In many ways, the Priority Schools disrupted the education org chart. Not by sowing chaos, but by facilitating collaboration among teachers, authentic communication between teachers and administrators, individualized and caring relationships between educators and students, and active, equitable and authentic engagement and empowerment with parents and the community. What was the outcome? Both students and teachers flourished, with traditional metrics like graduation rates, attendance, and test scores rising (while discipline rates dropped) alongside self-reported improvements to enthusiasm and morale among both children and adults.

The leadership lessons I learned in Sacramento continue to play out in my current role as president of the Stuart Foundation, dedicated to improving life outcomes for youth through education. Through the support of partners like Mills Teachers Scholars, the Center for Teaching Quality, Pivot Learning, the Buck Institute, and Envision Schools, Stuart elevates efforts to bring empathy, compassion, and real communication to every level of the education system. That’s the only type of leadership – humble, generous, and self-aware – that can truly transform public education in America.

Once again, I know this through first-hand experience. Among the projects supported by the Stuart Foundation is California’s Labor Management Initiative, which promotes collaborative relationships between unions and public school administrators. While you might expect that building trust between traditional adversaries would improve the experience of teachers, principals, and district staff, there’s actually more to it. In forging positive ties between unions and district leadership, the Initiative has been found to improve student performance.

Why are students more successful when labor and management reach across the table to connect? Because to view the school system solely through the lens of hierarchy is to rob everyone involved of their humanity, and the strengths that come when that humanity is celebrated, not stifled. Notably, our most cutting-edge industry has found that leaning into the strengths of our humanity – our ability to connect and empathize – is key to the jobs of today and tomorrow.

When Google embarked on a massive research project aimed at determining how to build the perfect team, it found that “in the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to each other’s feelings and needs.” Or, as former Google Distinguished Engineer Yonatan Zunger puts it, “Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers.” Be aggressive about ways to look to partner. Partnerships bring both excellence and equity.

Want to be a leader in education? If so, you must know deep in your heart that modeling these traits for our children isn’t a “nice-to-have”: it is core to preparing them for 21st century work and life. Whether you’re a superintendent, administrator, a teacher, a parent, or community member, you can help lead the movement to reimagine public education as a path to success for all children – start by looking across not down. Take risks for kids, and encourage our young people, families, and communities to advocate for themselves, even if that means pushing back against us.

National Suicide Prevention Month

(National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. As the Child Mind Institute states "through honest conversation and by providing kids who need it with help, we can prevent suicides and save lives. Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. Suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues."

Below is a resource library on suicide prevention and mental health for students.

Resource Library


The Most Common Misdiagnoses in Children

(National Awareness) Permanent link

This article from is reprinted with the permission of the Child Mind Institute. It is by Linda Spiro, PsyD, who is a clinical psychologist.  

When you have a headache, you know there are many possible causes, ranging from the mild to the very serious. When you see your doctor, she will likely ask you detailed questions about how long the headaches have been taking place, what type of pain you are feeling, when they occur, and what other symptoms you’re experiencing. Without a thorough assessment and examination, it would be absurd for your doctor to diagnose you with a brain tumor or the flu, both of which can give you a headache. And, of course, the treatment for a brain tumor and a virus would look very different.

The same thing is true of mental illness: many common symptoms occur for a variety of reasons, and can reflect several different diagnoses. That’s why a good mental health professional will give your child a thorough evaluation based on a broad range of information before coming up with a diagnosis. It’s crucial to understand what’s really behind a given behavior because, just as in medicine, the diagnosis your child receives can drastically change the appropriate treatment. ADHD medications, for example, won’t work if a child’s inattention or disruptive behavior is caused by anxiety, not ADHD. And, just like a medical doctor, when a treatment doesn’t work, whether it’s therapeutic or pharmaceutical, one of the things a good clinician will do is reexamine the diagnosis. 

Here we take a look at some of the common psychiatric symptoms that are easily misinterpreted in children and teenagers, leading to misdiagnosis. For each symptom, we explain the diagnosis it is commonly linked to, and what some of the alternate causes for what that behavior might be. (This list is only meant to be used as a guide, and it is important to always consult with a trained diagnostician before beginning treatment or assigning a label to your child.) 

  1. Inattention

The common diagnosis: ADHD

The symptom of inattention is often first observed by teachers, who may notice a student who is unusually easily distracted, is prone to daydreaming, and has difficulty completing homework assignments and following directions. While all children, especially those who are very young, tend to have shorter attention spans than adults, some children have much more trouble focusing than others.

 Inattention that is outside the typical range is one of the three key symptoms of ADHD, along with impulsivity, and hyperactivity. So when a child seems unusually distracted ADHD tends to be the first thing parents and clinicians suspect. However, there are many other possibilities that can be contributing to inattention.

“The kid who is inattentive could be inattentive because he has ADHD,” notes psychologist Steven Kurtz. “Or he could be inattentive because he is worried about his grandmother who’s sick in the hospital, or because he’s being bullied on the playground and the next period is recess.”

Other Possibilities:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):  

Many children with OCD are distracted by their obsessions and compulsions, and when the OCD is severe enough, they can spend the majority of their day obsessing. This can interfere with their lives in many ways, including paying attention in school. And since children with OCD are often ashamed of their symptoms, they may go to great lengths to hide their compulsions. It is not uncommon to see children keep their rituals under control while they are at school, only to be overwhelmed by them when they get home. Therefore, a teacher may notice a student having difficulty focusing and assume he has an attention problem, since his OCD is not apparent to her.

“A kid may be sitting in class having an obsession about needing to fix something, to avoid something terrible happening. Then the teacher calls on him,” says Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “When he doesn’t know the answer to the question, it looks like he wasn’t paying attention, but it’s really because he was obsessing.”

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

Children can also appear to be suffering from inattention when they have been impacted by a trauma. “Many of the symptoms of PTSD look like ADHD,” explains Dr. Jamie Howard, the director of the Trauma Response and Education Service at the Child Mind Institute. “Symptoms common in PTSD, such as difficulty concentrating, exaggerated startle response, and hypervigilance can make it seem like a child is jumpy and spacy.”

 Learning Disorder:

When a child seems to be looking everywhere but at the pages of the book she is supposed to be reading, another possible cause is that she has a learning disorder. Undiagnosed dyslexia can not only make a youngster fidget with frustration, she may be ashamed that she doesn’t seem to be able to do what the other kids can do, and intent on covering that fact up. Feeling like a failure is a big impediment to concentration, and anything that might relieve the feeling a welcome distraction.

“Fifty percent of kids who have learning disabilities have inattention,” notes Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a Harvard Medical School professor who specializes in mental health care in school settings. “For these kids, we need to intervene to support their learning deficits, otherwise treating them with stimulants will be a bust.”

The trickiest cases, Dr. Rapport adds, are really smart kids who have successfully compensated for their learning disabilities for years, by working extra hard. “They’ve been able to hide their weakness until they get older and there’s just too much heavy lifting. They’re often diagnosed with ADHD or depression, unless someone catches the learning problem.

2.    Repetitive Distressing Thoughts 

The common diagnosis: PTSD  

Intrusive thoughts and memories that a child can’t control are one of the key symptoms of PTSD. Clinicians think of PTSD as a damaged “fight or flight” response in a child who has had a disturbing experience, whether it was an upsetting event or a pattern of domestic violence or abuse. The experience is in the past, but the child keeps reliving the anxiety.

This can take place in the form of flashbacks, thinking about the event over and over, or experiencing frightening thoughts that get “stuck.”

Other possibilities: 


 In both OCD and PTSD, you can experience thoughts that intrude, thoughts that you don’t want to be thinking about,” said Dr. Howard. “These thoughts come into your head, without your volition and without your control. In both cases, they cause you distress, and you have to work to manage them.” But there is a major difference between the repetitive thoughts in OCD and PTSD, Dr. Howard notes: “With OCD it will be a concept the causes you distress, but with PSTD it’s an actual memory of something that happened.” 

3.     Restricted Speech

 The common diagnosis: Autism

 Autism is a developmental disorder that causes a child to have impairments in communication. Children with autism may have a delay in (or complete lack of) the development of spoken language. The most obvious signs of autism are usually noticed between 2 and 3 years of age. Although many children on the spectrum do speak, they may use language in unusual ways, avoid eye contact, and prefer to be alone. Autism may first be noticed by school professionals, who become aware that the child is not interacting socially with his peers in an appropriate way.

 Other Possibilities:

 Selective Mutism:

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder in which children do not speak in particular social situations. Many children with selective mutism are talkative at home, but there may be a complete lack of speech in other settings, such as in school. They may not communicate with peers or teachers at all, which can lead to school professionals being concerned about their social development. These social difficulties may lead some school personnel to jump to the conclusion that they are on the autism spectrum.  

 “You can have difficulty with communication for a lot of reasons,” notes Dr. Kurtz. “The thing to look for is the consistency across situations. Kids with SM will be quite social and quite fabulous chatterboxes in some settings, otherwise they probably don’t have SM.”

When it comes to making a diagnosis, it is important to make the distinction between a skills deficit and a performance deficit. Children with selective mutism have a performance deficit because they have the ability to speak but cannot demonstrate it in every setting, while children on the spectrum have skills deficits, so can’t demonstrate certain skills regardless of the setting.

 Children with selective mutism may also display other symptoms that may lead to alarm bells being sounded for autism. Some kids with SM appear very “shut down” in their affect. “Because the kid’s trying, whether he knows it or not, to convince people to back off, he’s also going to have poor eye contact like a kid on the spectrum, flat affect like a kid on the spectrum,” said Dr. Kurtz. “He’s not going to look like a kid whose only issue is that he is stuck in terms of being able to talk.”

4.     Sadness, fatigue, and difficulties thinking clearly

 The common diagnosis: Depression

 It is easy for most people to recognize the symptoms of depression: feelings of sadness, decreased interest in usual pleasurable activities, fatigue, weight changes, and difficulty concentrating. While it is normal for everyone to feel “down in the dumps” sometimes, children experiencing sadness or irritability that lasts for more than two weeks and impairs their ability to function may be thought of as experiencing a depressive episode.

Other Possibilities:


Hypothyroidism happens when your thyroid (a gland in your neck) is not secreting enough of certain important hormones. The symptoms of hypothyroidism look very similar to those of depression, and include fatigue, weight gain, feelings of sadness, and difficulty thinking clearly. However, the treatment for hypothyroidism is very different: children with hypothyroidism are treated using a thyroid replacement hormone.  

Anxiety Disorder:

Certain anxiety disorders, such as OCD, can be extremely impairing and scary to the person experiencing them. Children with OCD can have obsessions about invoking harm to their loved ones, as well as other violent or sexual images. While these obsessions are not true to what the child actually wants to happen, he has difficulty getting them out of his head. There are times when depressed mood is what is noticed first, but it may be secondary to another condition such as OCD. Due to the shameful thoughts that many children with OCD have, they may not feel comfortable sharing many of them, and may get misdiagnosed with depression. 

 “There are many cases where children who have fears or worrisome thoughts become depressed because they are scared and feel like things won’t get better,” explains Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist in the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. “That’s why it’s so important to accurately assess the symptoms and obtain a history that explains when they started. There are excellent treatments for anxiety disorders and depression-once a diagnosis is made, treatment can target these symptoms.”

5.     Disruptive Behavior

The common diagnosis: ODD

 Most children have occasional temper tantrums or outbursts, but when kids repeatedly lash out, are defiant, or can’t control their tempers, it can seriously impair their functioning in school and cause significant family turmoil. Often, these children are thought to have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which is characterized by a pattern of negative, hostile, or defiant behavior. Symptoms of ODD include a child losing his temper, arguing with adults, becoming easily annoyed, or actively disobeying requests or rules. In order to be diagnosed with ODD, the child’s disruptive behavior must be occurring for at least six months and be negatively affecting his life at school or at home. 

 Other possibilities:

Anxiety Disorders:

 Children with anxiety disorders have significant difficulty coping with situations that cause them distress. When a child with an untreated anxiety disorder is put into an anxiety-inducing situation, he may become oppositional in an effort to escape that situation or avoid the source of his acute fear. For example, a child with acute social anxiety may lash out at another child if he finds himself in a difficult situation. A child with OCD may become extremely upset and scream at his parents when they do not provide him with the constant repetitive reassurance that he uses to manage his obsessive fears. “It probably occurs more than we think, either anxiety that looks disruptive or anxiety coexisting with disruptive behaviors,” said Dr. Busman. “And this goes right back to why we have to have a comprehensive and good diagnostic assessment.”


 Many children with ADHD, especially those who experience impulsivity and hyperactivity, may exhibit many symptoms that make them appear oppositional. These children may have difficulty sitting still, they may touch and play with anything they can get their hands on, blurt out inappropriate remarks, have difficulty waiting their turn, interrupt others, and act without thinking through the consequences. These symptoms are more a result of their impaired executive functioning skills—their ability to think ahead and assess the impact of their behavior—than purposeful oppositional behavior.

Learning Disorder:

 When a child acts out repeatedly in school, it’s possible that the behavior stems from an undiagnosed learning disorder. Say he has extreme difficulty mastering math skills, and laboring unsuccessfully over a set of problems makes him very frustrated and irritible. Or he knows next period is math class.

“Kids with learning problems can be masters at being deceptive—they don’t want to expose their vulnerability. They want to distract you from recognizing their struggle,” explains Dr. Rappaport. “If a child has problems with writing or math or reading, rather than ask for help or admit that he’s stuck, he may rip up an assignment, or start something with another child to create a diversion.” 

 Paying attention to when the problematic behavior happens can lead to exposing a learning issue, she adds. “When parents and teachers are looking for the causes of dysregulation, it helps to note when it happens—to flag weaknesses and get kids support.”


National Immunization Month Back-to-School CDC Resources and Recommendations

(National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

August is National Immunization Month, which raises awareness on the importance of vaccines in protecting children against serious and fatal diseases.

The National Public Health Information Coalition, in collaboration with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has developed a toolkit which offers resources related to immunizations for every stage of life. Access the toolkit and CDC’s resource library .

Below are some of the recommendations for school-aged children from this toolkit.


  • Vaccinating according to the recommended immunization schedule provides your child with safe and effective protection against preventable diseases. Many vaccine-preventable diseases can spread easily in child care and school settings. Protecting your children from preventable diseases will help keep them healthy and in school. 
    •  Parents should check their child’s immunization records to make sure they are up to date on all recommended vaccinations. Parents with questions are encouraged to talk with their child’s health care professional to see if their child needs any catch-up doses.
  •  Talk to your child’s doctor or other health care professional to make sure your children get the vaccines they need when they need them.
    •  Take advantage of any visit to the doctor – checkups, sick visits, even physicals for sports or college – to ask about the vaccinations your child needs.
    •  Families who need help paying for vaccines should ask their health care provider about the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. This program provides vaccines at no cost to eligible children who do not otherwise have access to recommended childhood vaccines. The VFC program provides vaccines for children ages 18 years and younger who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, American Indian or Alaska Native.
  •  Check your child’s vaccine records to make sure they are up to date on all the vaccines they need to stay healthy.
  •  Vaccination is one of the best ways parents can protect infants, children and teens from 16 potentially harmful diseases. Vaccine-preventable diseases can be very serious, may require hospitalization or can even be deadly — especially in infants and young children.
    •   Preteens and teens need four vaccines to protect against serious diseases: Meningococcal conjugate vaccine to protect against meningitis and bloodstream infections (septicemia), HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV, Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis) and a yearly flu vaccine to protect against seasonal flu. Teens and young adults may also be vaccinated with a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine.


Community of Practice: A District Team Approach to Strengthening Breakfast After the Bell

(Alternative School Breakfast , Healthy Eating and Active Living , Student Support Services) Permanent link

Guest post by Alison Maurice, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst and Megan McDonough, Child Nutrition Summer Intern, Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)

AASA, The School Superintendents Association (AASA) and The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) partnered to host a webinar featuring three school districts that participate in AASA’s “Feeding Hungry Minds” alternative school breakfast initiative. Since 2011, The Walmart Foundation has supported AASA’s work.  


This webinar featured Mountain View School District in California, Spring Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, and Newburgh Enlarged City School District in New York. These school district offers breakfast to their students using breakfast after the bell (BATB) models. The alternative breakfast programs these school districts have built -- with mentorship, technical assistance, and other support from AASA -- exemplify what is possible when school administrators and school nutrition staff join together to ensure students have the morning nutrition they need to be successful in the classroom.

To facilitate engagement of school superintendents and school nutrition directors, AASA established the Community of Practice (CoP) model as an integral part of their work on school breakfast with districts. The CoP brings together superintendents, food service directors, state anti-hunger organizations, and dairy associations to share best practices and problem solve together. The CoP’s structure encourages relationship building for a deeper understanding of participants’ shared vision on children, health and hunger. 

In 2013, Mountain View School District launched a grab and go breakfast program in all 12 of its schools. From 2013 to 2014, the district increased average daily school breakfast participation by 71 percent, with 5 out of 12 schools increasing by more than 100 percent.

“I believe administrative support, and in particular superintendent support, especially when initiating this program is critical,” said Lillian Maldonado French, Superintendent of Mountain View School District. “When folks knew it was something that we were all behind, especially something that the board and I were willing to support, I think folks really came along and tried to make sure that it was a success.” 

Spring ISD launched their district-wide school breakfast program in 2015 that began with eight schools and successfully grew to universal free breakfast by the end of that year. This is a priority for Superintendent Rodney Watson, who meets monthly with the district’s Chief Operating Officer, Director of Child Nutrition, students, and the Texas Department of Agriculture to set benchmarks for the school breakfast program.

Spring ISD’s 26 elementary schools serve breakfast in the classroom (BIC), while the 4 high schools and 2 middle schools use grab and go kiosks to distribute breakfast. Shelly Copeland, Director of Child Nutrition, noted that one of her principals quickly saw improvements in student behavior ,“and we see that on a daily basis—the calmness of the students and the community feel of having breakfast in the classroom.”

Newburgh Enlarged City School District had more than a 100 percent increase in breakfast participation in each of their 14 schools in 2015 when they began providing BIC to their 12,000 students.

“We believe in the research around when a child is hungry, the impact that it will have on student learning,” stated Roberto Padilla, Superintendent of the Newburgh Enlarged City School District. “We [superintendents] are all in this profession because we love children and we want to create conditions whereby they have the optimal opportunity to achieve at the highest level. This is just simply a matter of removing a barrier that could get in that way.”

 Since 2011, AASA has engaged 30 school districts to increase participation in school breakfast to reduce hunger and increase the number of students who are healthy, alert, in school and learning. Learn more about this initiative through two School Governance and Leadership (SG&L) Publications: “Improving Attendance Health and Behavior: Moving Breakfast Out of the Cafeteria (2013)” and “Feeding Hungry Minds: Stories from the Field (2017). Access AASA’s resource library for more information on this initiative.

 Follow this link to access the webinar recording, and use this password: PpUV4P2Y

Panel Promotes Equity at Education Writers Conference

(Equity Series) Permanent link

Guest post by Jimmy Minichello, Communications and Marketing Director, AASA

Hundreds of education journalists from across the country along with communications officers representing national education groups gathered last week in Los Angeles for the 71st annual Education Writers Association national seminar, held on the campus of the University of Southern California.

The conference, “Room for All? Diversity in Education & the Media,” focused on a number of critical themes, including equity and newsroom diversity. The seminar provided reporters who primarily cover K-12 and higher education with a lengthy list of story ideas surrounding key issues that have a direct impact on students, schools and communities.

EWA Panel 2018
"Room for All? Diversity in Education & the Media" panel.

On the first day of the conference, one of the opening concurrent sessions featured Howard Fuller, professor of education, Marquette Univerity; Catherine Lhamon, chairwoman, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; and, Pedro Noguera, professor of education, UCLA. The panel, titled, “The State of Educational Equity (and Inequity) in Schools,” was moderated by Steve Drummond, a national education reporter with NPR.

“We need to distinguish between equity and equality,” said Fuller, a former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. “People who are oppressed need more than people who are not. If we’re going to talk about equity, give people who have less, more.”

“We live in an unequal society,” said Noguera. “We tend to look at education in a vacuum. We’re one of the few countries in the world that spends more money on wealthy children than poor children.”

Lhamon, who served as the keynote speaker at the annual Dr. Effie H. Jones Memorial Luncheon during AASA’s 2018 National Conference on Education, provided some food for thought for journalists attending the session. Reflecting on the articles she read on this topic, she said she enjoys “reading articles that clarify who the students are (and) how high level policy discussions translate to the perspective of the student. That’s most beneficial for any reader.”  

Lhamon added, “What you write is what we know. There is an incredible responsibility to get it right.”

About halfway through the session, the conversation shifted to school choice. Fuller responded by sharing “If you have money, you’ve got choice. People who suffer are low income, working class people. They were forced to stay in a school that didn’t work for them that’s it’s not working for their children.”

“Middle class affluent people always have choice,” added Noguera. “That to me is an important issue. We have deeply entrenched inequities in our system.” Nearly three years ago, Noguera served as a keynote speaker at the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy Inaugural Conference, held in Alexandria, Va. Watch his video where he offered 10 points of advice to attendees.

“We have to make sure that all kids have access to quality public education,” said Lhamon. “Schools can transform opportunities and outcomes.”

There were other sessions throughout the conference focusing on equity including the opening plenary session featuring Shaun Harper, a provost professor at the USC Rossier School of Education and the Marshall School of Business.

The mission of the Education Writers Association is to strengthen the community of education writers and improve the quality of education coverage to better inform the public.

As the professional organization of members of the media who cover education at all levels, EWA has worked for more than 70 years to help journalists get the story right. Today, EWA has more than 3,000 members benefiting from its high-quality programs, training, information, support and recognition.

To join the conversation in equity via Twitter, access #Supts4Equity.

For more information, access

Breakfast After the Bell Legislation Passed in New York State

 Permanent link

This guest post was written by Jessica Pino-Goodspeed, Child Nutrition Programs Specialist, Hunger Solutions New York. 

Albany School Breakfast Event
Jessica Pino-Goodspeed presenting at the American Dairy Association North East's National School Breakfast Week in Albany, NY.The goal of the event was to highlight Governor Cuomo's "No Student Goes Hungry" campaign, and present a "state of the state" on New York School Breakfast in March 2018.

 Over half of students who attend NYS public schools are eligible to eat free and reduced-price school breakfast. But less than 1 in 3 of these students eat school breakfast. Low participation in school breakfast is not a new phenomenon in New York State. The federally-funded School Breakfast Program has historically been underutilized, placing NYS consistently among the poorest performing states in a national ranking based on state's efficiency in reaching low-income children with school breakfast.

In January 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a statewide solution to low participation in school breakfast. In the 2019FY Executive Budget, Governor Cuomo introduced a comprehensive program entitled "No Student Goes Hungry". Drawing from evidence-based strategies for addressing chronic low participation in school breakfast, the Governor’s plan proposed a new education law. This law will require all public schools with 70% or more of students who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals to offer school breakfast after the start of the instructional day – also referred to as Breakfast After the Bell – by the 2018-2019 school year.

In April 2018, NYS Legislature passed “No Student Goes Hungry” consequently putting into effect a requirement to ensure high-poverty schools are taking necessary steps to ensure that school breakfast is accessible at all students. Enacting Breakfast After the Bell legislation as quickly and effectively New York has spoken to the level of commitment from both our Governor and the State Legislature to mitigate the impact of hunger that 1 in 5 children in our state faces each day.

Thanks to the vision of local school district leaders, we are not starting from scratch with this new Breakfast After the Bell legislation. Many districts across the state took it upon themselves to implement Breakfast After the Bell early because they recognized that a child could not be hungry to learn if they are just plain hungry. Their leadership is now more critical than ever as new schools that are impacted by this Breakfast After the Bell requirement start to explore changes to their breakfast programs. These successful districts – many of which were AASA grantees– have already served as mentors to both administrators and school nutrition leaders as they implemented Breakfast After the Bell models like breakfast in the classroom and grab and go in their districts.

Breakfast After the Bell is not uncharted territory in New York. Schools are doing it well and gaining recognition. For example, Newburgh Enlarged City School District ranked 3rd in a national analysis of large districts performance in reaching low-income students with school breakfast. It's clear that there is a tremendous success and best practices to build upon across the state.  

Successful Breakfast After the Bell school districts have not only increased their breakfast participation and rebuilt financially robust breakfast programs, but also the impact of their breakfast programs have extended beyond the school nutrition department with positive implications on tardiness, disciplinary issues, and attendance.

This breakfast legislation is a game changer because it levels the playing field among all high-poverty schools across the state to ensure – regardless of where you attend school – breakfast is accessible. Schools face competing priorities, but hunger cannot wait and is a critical priority. This urgency is underscored by the research that links hunger with adverse impacts on children's ability to learn, mental health, behavior, and social-emotional development. Thanks to our state’s strategic investment in Breakfast After the Bell and the enactment of breakfast legislation, schools have a solution to eliminate hunger during the school day as a barrier to student success.

Benefits of Green Time

(Student Support Services) Permanent link

Guest post by the "Screen & Green" panelists at the 2018 National Conference on Education. The panelists were Kevin Maxwell, CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools (Md.), Jeanne McCarty, CEO of REAL School Gardens (Washington D.C.)  and Jaime Zaplatosch, Director of Children Nature Network (MN).

Now that it’s officially spring, teachers across the country are getting excited to take their students outside. Whether schools have simple vegetable beds, outdoor classrooms, or full on green schoolyards, both students and teachers reap a multitude of benefits when they spend more time outdoors.

In February at the AASA Conference in Nashville, the “Screen Time & Green Time” panel discussed why it’s just as crucial to take your 21st-century-learners outside as it is to take them to the computer lab. But despite the proven benefits of ensuring children have frequent time and space outside, many teachers and administrators struggle to create and program effective green spaces for children. Our panelists offer some suggestions and resources to help you effectively plan, create, and activate your greenspace.

How to Plan your Program
Jaime Zaplatosch
Director – Green Schoolyards Initiative
Children & Nature Network


A growing body of evidence shows that time spent learning and playing in nature helps children reach their full academic and social-emotional potential. Regular access to high quality green space improves mental and physical health -- and inspires strong connections to the natural world.

While only a small percentage of U.S. schools currently offer nature-filled outdoor spaces, many communities are exploring green schoolyards as a strategy for increasing educational and health equity, and enhancing quality of life. The number of green schoolyards is growing as communities mobilize to transform asphalt and turf grass into enriching outdoor areas where children and families can learn, play and grow both during and outside of school time.

We envision green schoolyards as multi-functional school grounds that offer places for students, teachers, parents and community members to play, learn, explore and grow with regular connection to nature. Green schoolyard features can include things such as outdoor classrooms, native/pollinator gardens, stormwater capture, play equipment, nature play areas, edible gardens, trails, and trees.

Engage partners outside of the school district to develop a green schoolyards program that helps them achieve their mission and put their resources on your schoolyards; consider who cares about each of the benefits shown here and invite them for a conversation. Visit our Green Schoolyards Resource Hub for a step-by-step process and existing resources for creating and sustaining a district-wide green schoolyards program.

 Real-World Proof
Dr. Kevin Maxwell
CEO - Prince Georges County Public Schools

Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland is one of the nation's 25 largest school districts, with an incredibly diverse student population by almost any metric. Maryland was the first state in the nation to adopt an environmental literacy high school graduation requirement as part of their environmental literacy standards and PGCPS embraced those standards with rich program offerings that promoted environmental literacy for all our students.

We’ve seen firsthand how our environmental initiatives support a holistic approach to education, creating robust, real-world learning experiences. PGCPS gets students excited about school and engaged in learning, bolstering STEM learning, problem solving, critical thinking and more. Our students enjoy their outdoor environmental lessons, and love to work on “real world” projects where they solve problems, collect and analyze data, and explore the environment. These are the lessons and projects kids talk about years later, so the deep learning that’s taking place stays with them throughout school and life.

PGCPS is now considered a national model program, and I’ve helped convene superintendents interested in harnessing the power of environmental education. To learn more, visit the Superintendents’ Environmental Education Collaborative (SEEC).

How to Activate Green Space for Academics
Jeanne McCarty
CEO - REAL School Gardens

One of the big barriers to getting children outdoors more often is that teachers and administrators can’t afford to lose instructional time. Luckily, instead of losing instructional time, teachers can actually use the outdoors to teach more efficiently, effectively increasing their instructional time by taking certain lessons outdoors and delivering them in a hands-on way. Studies show that students are more engaged in outdoor learning, and teachers’ effectiveness and job-satisfaction improves when they’re trained to take learning outdoors. That’s because experiential learning in a real-world setting increases student engagement and academic achievement, especially in science and math.

When you provide teachers with the proper tools and training they need to effectively use outdoor spaces to support academics, they feel more confident and prepared to incorporate experiential learning into their lessons and get students outdoors to learn. Administrators should consider providing professional development for teachers that focuses on outdoor experiential learning. We provide one-on-one coaching and personalized support to ensure that outdoor teaching becomes deeply embedded into the school culture and produces long-term results for teachers and students alike.