Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Homecoming Ask

See you all at the Homecoming Parade on Friday!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper
Back to school means shopping for school supplies, fall sports, clubs, music lessons, early wake-ups, full calendars. . . and for the high school boys, finding a date for the formal homecoming dance. For the sophomores, it doesn’t seem quite fair. They’ve barely learned to navigate their way around the building before the pressure to find a date and form a group with friends begins.  

The homecoming dance is the first dance of the school year. This is followed by Sadie’s in early December ( girls askthemed costumes); Sweethearts in February (girls askformal); and in May, Prom for the Seniors (guys askformal). Considering that many adults aren’t skilled at planning social events, the process can be daunting. There is finding a date, forming a group, buying the tickets, finding a photo location, choosing a restaurant, arranging transportation, and a family kind enough to host the after-party.  Hint: tenth grade boys usually need a mom to help the first time around.  

There is shopping for a suit—one that might fit for at least a year.  For the girls, the dress, accessories, hair and make-up must be just right. The boy’s shirt and tie are usually coordinated to the girl’s dress.  If your child goes to all the dances, assuming Prom once, this is a process that will happen ten times. I think of friends with five Edina graduates. . . that would have been 50 dances! You really don’t want to know the price tag.

I hear that the asking sometimes starts in August. Not a simple ask, a creative ask. One worth re-telling. Hundreds of ideas abound. Common ones include balloons, candy, flowers or hidden messages. I’ve heard of a bedroom covered in post-it-notes, an inflatable alligator in the pool for a swimmer, scavenger hunts and a test that included the ask as the last question. Our son once wrote a very official-looking letter from the school about students with driving violations in the parking lot, which was actually a dance invitation. The deed often includes an accomplice—even a teacher. It’s all in good fun, but only one small part of the dance drama. Sometimes the ask has a glitch. Who started this tradition anyway?

This past spring in Shelton, Connecticut, a senior at a private school who taped twelve-inch-high letters  on the outside of his school—creating a sign asking his date to Prom—became an international news story. The school’s headmaster initially said that the senior was banned from the Prom. After the news hit the internet, over 200,000 supporters on Facebook and Twitter claimed that the punishment was too harsh. He was even interviewed on the TODAY show. Ultimately, James Tate was allowed to go to his Prom. 

Is there a lesson from the highly-publicized Connecticut situation?  Maybe to keep it simple, non-disruptive, and always ask permission involving property that isn’t your own. I’m pleased to report that our family never had to hire a sky-writer. I wonder if a young man in 2011 might consider the most courageous ask of all—face to face? That would be a tale worth repeating.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bring Your Own

Last year, in the first year of our “Go Wireless-Bring Your Own” initiative, roughly 200 students brought their own technology devices to school to enhance and personalize their learning. That’s like adding about eight new computer labs to our schools every day.
-Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

My oldest son started middle school at South View this fall.

For me, for a variety of reasons, there is no sentence long enough to hold “my son” and “middle school” far enough apart, no way to see those words juxtaposed without feeling a piercing dagger of fear in my gut. For my son, middle school is mostly exciting, offering more freedom, more autonomy, more class choices. We've shared a secret weapon as we’ve made the transition to middle school together. It’s an iPad.

Focusing our energy on the iPad got us through those nervous few days before school started. (In our house, the anxiousness was exacerbated rather than soothed by the sixth grade WEB orientation day. I wonder how many other students would have preferred a more soothing alternative to the frenetic activity, the blaring music, students screaming through portable speakers?) My son and I attended a “Go Wireless” orientation meeting and got a sticker to make his iPad officially OK to bring to school.  We scouted out a heavy-duty protective cover; we bought a backpack with a computer sleeve. We picked the best calendar app, one able to accommodate A and B days, and got his schedule entered and color-coded. We added his teachers’ email addresses and websites. We found the best note-taking app and tried it out, including the recording feature. When I dropped him off for that first day of school, me white-knuckling the steering wheel, he clutching the iPad, I think we were both grateful for its glowing aura of sleek sophistication.

In the first couple of weeks of school, the iPad has proven every bit the revolutionary tool I had hoped it would be for my son. Didn’t write down the assignment? No problem: go to the team website, where most teachers post the day’s assignments. (Thank you, teachers! You have no idea how much of elementary school we spent trying to find/remember/locate/reconstruct the assignment, versus doing the assignment itself.)  Forgot your reading book for language arts? No sweat: download something free on iBooks. Left the print-out of your assignment at home? Not a problem: email it to your teacher before you leave class. Staying late for play auditions, and not sure when you’ll be ready for a ride home? OK. Just FaceTime me when you’re done.

Of course there have been bumps along the way. My son would appreciate access to his math book online—it would save pounds of backpack weight, not to mention the worry of being sure that he has the textbook home on the correct night to do the homework. However, the online version of the textbook requires Flash, irritatingly not available on the iPad. One day, during student presentations in class, my son lost focus and gave in to the temptation.  He put the iPad on his lap, slouched down, turned it on, and tried to sneak a few minutes of screen time. His alert and sensitive teacher helped him get back on track, asking him to keep the iPad on top of his desk “to improve his posture.”(If only I were as subtle and encouraging at home. I am working on it.)

As the school year goes on, I’m looking forward to hearing how he’s using the iPad for more collaborative, creative assignments, like the one featured here.  But for now, this piece of technology, this Linus security blanket, performs miracles enough.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Homework Help

Edina teachers are exploring innovative ways to help students (and parents!) with their homework: see examples of screencasting here and here.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Helping our kids with homework can sometimes be very stressful. Have you ever found yourself spending a lot of time arguing with your child over a certain homework problem, only to arrive at the conclusion you were both either arguing the same point, but with different words, or seeing the original question in entirely different ways?

This is definitely more of a problem when the kids get older, but, here are two great moments where I learned a couple of important lessons while helping my then first-grader with her homework. I still smile at the memory, and of the laughter we shared. A good reminder to really pay attention to how you and your child may be looking at the same homework problem, but seeing entirely different things!

Lesson One
As adults, we may read the question with our full focus on the delivering the “right” answer from a whole different viewpoint or set of values. For example, a bigger half is better than a smaller half, right?

Our children, on the other hand, may be focusing on the real question being asked, which to my first-grader was, “Do you like fruit bars?”  If not, the right answer is definitely “B.”

Lesson Two
Sometimes the questions contain references that seem so obvious to those of us of a certain age, but they are not so obvious to someone born in, say, 2004!

Digital clocks? Not so much help in solving fractions. I love it.

Take aways for me? Keep it light, really listen, and check in often to see if you and your child are even looking at the same homework problem!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Surviving the First Day of Kindergarten

Every innovation, every major accomplishment for our students and for our District starts with brave first steps like this one.

- Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

My husband, daughter and I have been in Edina for almost five years now. We’ve learned to make the most of summer. This summer brought a lot of first-time accomplishments for our little daughter, who is now five. Riding her bike without training wheels. Diving into the pool by herself.  First time bungee jumping at the State Fair.  Wow!  

But to top all of these accomplishments, Nidhi attended her first day of Kindergarten last week.

She has been waiting the whole summer for this day, telling everyone she meets that she will be going to Highlands Elementary. Suddenly, or not so suddenly, the day is here. She gets onto the bus all by herself. Gives me a big squishy hug, a wave goodbye. Very calm, composed.  Probably a little anxious around the corner of her eyes, but the excitement of the bus ride masks all of the anxiousness. 

There is no exciting bus ride for the mom, though. I am just standing there, wondering if she will she be able to make new friends, able to find the bathroom. Will she miss the bus home? She has to transfer buses at Countryside. What if she is lost? 

At this point I start to think I am freaking out. Still, I am taking a picture, I am managing to say, “Have fun, honey!”  A small tear runs down my cheek, which I try to hide from my Kindergartener. I was warned by the other moms about having a Kleenex box with me, but you know only when you know.  Off goes the bus!

After quite a number of anxious glances at the clock, it’s finally time for my little one to be back. I am sure the three hours of her afternoon Kindergarten were a really a big adjustment for her.  Waiting, waiting, and there she comes back! So happy, her face reflecting a great achievement. I ask, “How did the day go?” She says, “Good.” 

And then she says, “I am so HUNGRY, Mom!”

As I write this, I am so proud and thankful that this very important day for my daughter was so successful.  Our family was involved in ECFE classes at the Edina Family Center for almost three years, and all of her preschool teachers and the Kindergarten Camp she attended helped her build much of the confidence she has today. The parenting classes helped with the planning and preparation needed to help her enter this new chapter in her life. 

So, I think I survived the first day of kindergarten. I’m wondering what’s next?

Sumana Ramesh

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Last First Day of ECFE

One of our District's three main goals for the 2011-12 school year is to continue to improve transition experiences for our students--not only from preschool to kindergarten and between all grade levels and buildings, but including other transitions as well: from home to school, from standard curriculum to co-curriculars and extra-curricular enrichment, and from our schools out into the wider community.
- Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

September holds transitions no matter what year it is. For our family, this year held more than most. With one child bumping up to middle school, we now have the building bookended with children in sixth and ninth grade, leaving the fourth grader as the only elementary school participant…for now.   

In 1997, I signed up for my first ECFE class at the Edina Family Center with my then-infant, now a freshman.  This year, I sent my four year old off to the last first day of ECFE our family will ever see.  After 15 years of first days at the Edina Family Center, some years with more than one child, this year is the last.

While I participate in and love the Beyond ECFE classes for parents of school-aged children (and will likely string together fifteen years of those), it is different from the magic of walking into Teacher Karen’s or Teacher Suellen’s class hand-in-hand, and pinning a felt nametag on the back of someone who will greet me later with a bulldozer of a hug and sing to me in the car on the way home.

Once a week, I stay for “Mama’s day to play with the friends,” and we have a chance to sing, do art projects, create, play, and make friends together. All four of my kids and I forever run into kids and parents we know from ECFE, and those connections continue to matter years later. These are magical times, and I have been fortunate to have many of them after being in almost thirty classes, so I am acutely aware of my need to savor them even more this go-round.  The work teachers and staff put in before we ever arrived on that first day made for an embracing welcome, and for the first time, his name on a locker!

There are times that try our hearts, and times that fill them, and our hearts are certainly full this September, and I am awed by the enchantment that still comes with the very small markers on the way to the new milestones: a name on a locker, a new friend at lunch, a new robot lunchbox from Dad.

It will be but a blink before the locker will have a combination, the friend will also appear on Facebook, and the lunchbox will be an innocuous solid color. As for today, I will pin on the felt name tag, and know another exciting transition awaits next year, when we find out what time the kindergarten bus comes in the morning. 

Thanks to ECFE, we will both be ready!

Stacy Abena

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's a shiny new school year...

. . . and we've been busy buffing up The Edina Mill blog as well. 

Please LIKE The Mill Blog on Facebook and be among the first to read our community-authored posts, featuring memorable moments of daily life in Edina Public Schools.

Look for the first post of the 2011-12 school year later this week.