The Total Child

Resource: Grief Over the Holidays: Educators Can Help Students Cope

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The following is a  cross-post from the National Center for School Crisis & Bereavement. Learn more about ways to offer support to grieving students at the Coalition to Support Grieving Students website. AASA is part of the Coalition.

All across the nation, Thanksgiving and the December holidays are a special time for families, schools and communities. Everywhere we look, we see signs of celebration. In schools, there may be pageants, food drives, decorations and parties. In stores, we hear familiar music. On the streets, people wish each other happy holidays and talk about getting together with extended family and close friends. 

During these times, most of us also think about people we miss,including loved ones who have died. These memories can be especially acute for children and teens who have lost a loved one. They may experience periods of deep sadness, a renewal of their grief, or sudden and unexpected reactions of anger, despair or fear.

These responses may happen the first or second year after a death, or many years later. Educators spend a lot of time with students and are uniquely poised to observe grief responses over time. They can take steps to anticipate challenges. The support and understanding they offer grieving students over the holidays can be especially helpful.

Grief Triggers Can Be Strong

Grief triggers are sudden reminders of the person who died that cause powerful emotional responses. These can include smells or sounds, hearing a song, participating in a family tradition, or even imagining a lost opportunity such as a holiday dinner with the loved one.

Our holidays are filled with these kinds of reminders, so grief triggers can be frequent and quite strong during these times.

Emotions Can Be Powerful 

Grieving children may feel particularly vulnerable when they have grief responses to holiday events. They may isolate themselves from peers or celebrations in an effort to avoid triggers. They may be frustrated or disappointed that they can’t manage these responses. It’s common for children to feel, “I should be past this
and able to stay in control now.”

Goals For Educators

By reaching out to grieving students, educators have an opportunity to promote several important goals, including:

  1.  Decreasing the students’ sense of isolation. It’s common for grieving children to feel that others do not understand their experience.
  2.  Offering students an opportunity to talk. Students will be thinking about their loved one. They will be reflecting on memories, experiences and feelings.
  3.  Encouraging students to talk with others. In most cases, it’s helpful for students to talk honestly with peers and family about their thoughts, feelings and memories.

Steps to Take

  • Ask open-ended questions. Listen more than talk. For example, ask, “How are the holidays going for you? I wonder what thoughts you’ve been having about your dad lately.”
  •  Accept expressions of emotion. Children may express sadness, pain, frustration, anger or other powerful emotions. Avoid minimizing their feelings or trying to put a “positive” spin on their expressions. For example, saying, “It’s important to focus on the good times you had with your dad,” is likely to communicate that you don’t want to hear a child talk about painful things.
  •  Reach out to grieving students at school events. The absence of a loved one may be especially noticeable during the classroom party or holiday band concert. Make a point to touch base in some way. Let a student know you’re happy to see her here at the party, or are looking forward to hearing her play in the concert.
  •  Introduce class activities in a way that acknowledges absences and offers alternatives. For example, if students are making cards for members of their family, invite them, if they wish, to also include cards for someone who is no longer living, or who does not live with the family.

Children experience grief differently over time. What is true this year for the holidays may not be the same next year. This is why one of the most important things a family member can do is ask questions and then listen, with presence and patience.Learn more about ways to offer support to grieving children and students at the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.


Redefining Ready! Reflections from 2018 Superintendent of the Year

(National Awareness, Student Support Services) Permanent link

Guest Post by David R. Schuler, Ph.D., Superintendent, High School District 214 (Ill.)

It has been amazing to serve as the 2018 National Superintendent of the Year. This award has not been about me or my career. It is truly a reflection of the outstanding teachers, students, and staff of High School District 214, where I have served as superintendent for the last 14 years of the 19 that I have been a public school superintendent. I absolutely love leading this District and working to influence the national dialogue about public education.

I have appreciated the opportunity this year to reflect on what it means to be the leader of not only a district but of a movement of educators across this country who are striving to redefine what it means to be ready for college, career, and life beyond high school.

More than 60 districts across the nation have joined the Redefining Ready! cohort and hundreds of educators attended the inaugural Redefining Ready! National Summit where we shared best practices and ideas to inspire innovation within our respective districts. Superintendents and districts across this country are engaging in the work to redefine and redesign the educational experience for thousands of students.

As part of our Redefining Ready! work, I am continually inspired by the stories of our students and graduates in High School District 214. Each day I hear of stories such as Zach Burke. Zach, a Prospect High School graduate, took a computer science course his freshman year that led to a passion for coding and a top award in the 2016 Congressional App Challenge. He presented his app – designed in one of our classrooms – to national tech leaders in Washington, D.C.

At Buffalo Grove High School, Jackie Molloy and Nicole Relias took courses in the business management pathway and now co-run a startup selling their product, Skunk Aid, on Amazon and in stores across Chicago. How cool is that?

An internship at a physical therapist’s office affirmed recent Wheeling High School graduate Hannah DeGraff’s decision to pursue a career in the field and provided her a behind-the-scenes look at running a healthcare business.

Rolling Meadows graduates Miranda Adelman and Raymond Liu completed courses in the visual arts pathway and interned at Harper College, while Elk Grove’s Oscar Gonzalez worked with high-tech tools in the classroom and earned an industry-level safety certification verifying his qualifications in the field.

At Hersey, Kayleigh Padar's introductory course in journalism led to a role as editor-in-chief of the school's paper and an internship writing bylined articles for the Daily Herald, our local newspaper. And Brandon Sobecki, a Vanguard graduate, spent half of his day interning in a veterinarian’s office while simultaneously earning 21 college credits through our Early College Center.

Our students are saving money in college and shortening the time to graduation by enrolling in dual credit and Advanced Placement coursework.

Tanya Sarkis, a Wheeling High School graduate now a freshman at DePaul University, took four dual credit courses during her senior year that allowed her to save about $11,000 in college tuition.

And Ivan Najera, who never planned to pursue college, participated in our Early College Center where he earned 28 transferable hours of college credit through Arizona State University’s Global Freshman Academy classes. Ivan is wrapping up his first semester at our local community college and will soon transfer to a four-year university to earn his bachelor’s degree.

These are just a few of the countless success stories that our staff have provided for our 12,000 students. Our students can only dream what they can see and we must provide engaging, rigorous, and relevant experiences on their educational journey.

Students today are entering a workforce where they will have multiple careers during their lifetime. We must move from focusing on motivation and inspiration, to aspiration. We must empower our students to aspire, dream big and discover their future.

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