Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Parent Blog

Psychology Today

Published on November 22, 2012 by Dr. Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. in Radical Teaching

By Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.

A Gift Parents Can Give Children that Money Can’t Buy

Recent studies of children who grow up in bilingual settings reveal advantages over single language children, including both increased attentive focus and cognition. The findings correlate with prefrontal cortex brain activity networks, which direct the highest levels of thinking and awareness.


Compared to monolinguals, the studied bilingual children, who had had five to ten years of bilingual exposure, averaged higher scores in cognitive performance on tests and had greater attention focus, distraction resistance, decision-making, judgment and responsiveness to feedback. The correlated neuroimaging (fMRI scans) of these children revealed greater activity in the prefrontal cortex networks directing these and other executive functions. (Bialystok, 2009; Kaushanskaya & Marian, 2007).


This increased executive function activation in the brains…

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When a high school mock trial team from Dallas, Texas, got stranded in New York City during the worst of Superstorm Sandy, students logged on to Skype to describe the storm to their friends and families. The Bishop Lynch High School mock trial members had just finished competing in the Empire City Invitational in downtown Brooklyn on Sunday, Oct. 28, before mass transit came to a halt. As part of the curriculum, government teachers Rick Dunn and David Post (also the mock trial coaches) had planned to continue class Monday, Oct. 29 with their students back in Texas by Skyping with them from both the 9/11 Memorial and the New York Stock Exchange, where a former student was going to give a tour. But with the storm brewing and mass transit down, they had to blow off that virtual field trip.

But “teachers are notorious for hating to miss school,”…

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The Salem Garden

This morning over coffee I read this link   to a story about garden-based learning on Jamie Oliver’s website. It describes a school program in Morgantown, West Virginia and the work that’s being done to teach children experientially, using the garden. It sounds quite similar to the garden that I talked about here when I blogged about the Nathaniel Bowditch School in Salem last summer. Gardens are popping up in schools all over the country as we come to realize that our children need to learn, in a very hands on way, about where their food comes from, or perhaps I should say “where it should come from”.  Many American children are growing up with the idea that food comes from a box at the grocery store. I recently sent some zucchini home with one of my kid’s friends and heard later that they had no idea what it was. It really…

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Sixth Grade Innovators and Scientists Through Project Based Learning

Middle school students bottle up science lesson in Bettendorf

Middle school students bottle up science lesson in Bettendorf
Steven MartensThe Quad-City Times
November 25, 2012 11:49 pm • Steven Martens

Just beyond the typical sixth-grade science class commotion, two other sounds operate in the background of Chad Uhde’s classroom at Bettendorf Middle School: the humming of air pumps and the bubbling of water.

The room is filled with small hydroponic systems that were researched, designed and built by students. The students planted tomatoes, lettuce and bell peppers, and sprouts of plants are beginning to show.

In the spring, Uhde said, the students hope to transplant their vegetables into a greenhouse made of empty 2-liter soda bottles that they built behind the school.

Uhde said he and Kevin Roling’s sixth-grade science students took on the initiative as part of the school’s emphasis on project-based learning. It gives students a task and requires them to learn through their own independent research and trial-and-error rather than being lectured, or corrected, by a teacher.

“It’s hard to stop myself sometimes and not give them an answer,” Uhde said.

The students are more engaged in the subject matter when they have a personal stake in the lesson, he said.

Hydroponics is the science of growing plants in water rather than soil. One group of students constructed an aquaponic system, which combines hydroponics with the raising of marine life. The system includes fish that live in the water, with the fish excrement providing nutrients to the plants.

Uhde said he has been impressed with the amount of research and planning his students have done in creating the systems.

“It’s pretty neat to see how creative they can be when you give them the materials and just let them go.”

Student Maddie Kussatz said the hydroponics project is part of a lesson that includes two other classes — social studies and art. In social studies, students learned about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built about 600 B.C. under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II and considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Kussatz said students created a pop-up book in art class about what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon might have looked like.

Student Daniel Wilkinson said the project has been interesting as they researched and experimented with different designs.

Greenhouse 2

Greenhouse 4

Innovative Student Gardeners

In the Book Bag, More Garden Tools

Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Children at the 2,400-square-foot Fifth Street Farm, a garden atop three East Village schools.


Published: November 23, 2012

In the East Village, children planted garlic bulbs and harvested Swiss chard before Thanksgiving. On the other side of town, in Greenwich Village, they learned about storm water runoff, solar energy and wind turbines. And in Queens, students and teachers cultivated flowers that attract butterflies and pollinators.

Across New York City, gardens and miniature farms — whether on rooftops or at ground level — are joining smart boards and digital darkrooms as must-have teaching tools. They are being used in subjects as varied as science, art, mathematics and social studies. In the past two years, the number of school-based gardens registered with the city jumped to 232, from 40, according to GreenThumb, a division of the parks department that provides schools with technical support.

But few of them come with the credential of the 2,400-square-foot garden at Avenue B and Fifth Street in the East Village, on top of a red-brick building that houses three public schools: the Earth School, Public School 64 and Tompkins Square Middle School. Michael Arad, the architect who designed the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, was a driving force behind the garden, called the Fifth Street Farm.

The idea took shape four years ago among parents and teachers, when Mr. Arad’s son was still a student at the Earth School. The family has since moved from the neighborhood to Queens, but Mr. Arad, president of a nonprofit corporation that oversaw the garden, stayed on. The farm, with dozens of plants ranging from leeks to lemon balm, opened Oct. 19. Already, students have learned about bulbs and tubers, soil science and nutrition, while the cafeteria has cooked up fresh kale and spinach for lunch.

Mr. Arad said a conversation with his two children during an apple-picking trip spurred his interest in the farm. “They said, ‘What? Apples grow on trees?’ ” he recalled. “A lot of kids don’t get to go upstate. This is 365 days a year. It gives them an immediate, visceral connection to nature.”

The Fifth Street Farm cost about $1 million to build and used what Mr. Arad called “off the shelf” components, like fiberglass planters and galvanized fencing. “This has the potential to be a model for the rest of the city,” he said. “If money is no object, you can do whatever you want — hydroponics, a greenhouse. But you don’t need an unlimited budget.”

Most of the funding for the Fifth Street Farm came from the office of Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, who has provided $3 million toward green roofs and gardens atop schools, including ones at P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village and P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side. Two years ago, his office organized a forum on the topic for teachers, administrators and parents.

“There were a lot of naysayers arguing that you couldn’t transform these rooftops,” Mr. Stringer said. “To me, these are outdoor classrooms. These spaces are not ornamental. Kids are learning while they are planting.”

Since the 1980s, the Horticultural Society of New York has worked with more than two dozen schools on garden design, construction and curriculum through its Apple Seed program. Pamela Ito, the society’s director of children’s education, credited Rudy Crew, the former city schools chancellor, with promoting horticulture in the schools starting in the late 1990s.

The society, which shared plants and expertise with the Earth School, has lately made a push in Queens, where four ground-level gardens have opened in the past year, three of them this fall. Together, the schools have reaped about $270,000 from the Greening Western Queens Fund, which is part of a settlement with Consolidated Edison stemming from a long power failure in 2006. All of the schools — P.S. 2, P.S. 70, P.S. 84 and P.S. 85 — were in the blacked-out area.

Each school has put a different spin on its garden. The one at P.S. 2, in Jackson Heights, for instance, focuses on edible plants and has a rainwater catchment system. At P.S. 70 in Astoria, students planted butterfly bush and other colorful flowers to attract butterflies and bees, and tree-stump seating was installed in the garden so teachers could hold classes outdoors.

The roof at P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village aims to introduce students to green technologies. The elementary school already had container gardens at ground level, but it wanted to expand on the roof. On Sept. 21, the school opened a 15,000-square-foot green roof, which uses trays with four inches of soil to grow sedum, a drought-resistant perennial, as well as herbs and other native plants.

Among other things, the school’s 800 students will learn about the importance of diverting rainwater from the sewer system. A small wind turbine and three solar panels connected to a battery demonstrate alternative sources of energy. There is even a solar-powered fountain. “It’s great for the younger kids because if they stand in front of it and cast a shadow, it stops working,” said the school’s science coordinator, Vicki Sando, who, with the principal, Kelly Shannon, founded the $1.6 million project.

In the hope of extending instruction outdoors, the school is directing as many teachers as possible to the roof. Art teachers can bring students en plein-air to sketch the skyline. Math teachers can use the roof’s outlines to explain concepts like perimeter, area and angles. This week, first graders studying the weather climbed to the roof to explore the wind by blowing bubbles.

Green roofs and gardens are not for only elementary schools, however. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the High School for Public Service has a one-acre farm, which is now in its third season. The farm takes center stage in a course about the nation’s food system. Students also oversee a farmers’ market and offer cooking demonstrations.

“The farm is on the school’s front lawn, so you walk up and see tomatoes, corn, broccoli, sunflowers and 11 kinds of hot peppers,” said Elizabeth Bee Ayer, a consultant with Green Guerillas, a nonprofit group that helps run the high school’s program. “We were blown away because you don’t often find an acre of land in the middle of Brooklyn.”

The Need For Programmers

It’s the Economy

Skills Don’t Pay the Bills

Illustration by Peter Oumanski
Published: November 20, 2012

Earlier this month, hoping to understand the future of the moribund manufacturing job market, I visited the engineering technology program at Queensborough Community College in New York City. I knew that advanced manufacturing had become reliant on computers, yet the classroom I visited had nothing but computers. As the instructor Joseph Goldenberg explained, today’s skilled factory worker is really a hybrid of an old-school machinist and a computer programmer. Goldenberg’s intro class starts with the basics of how to use cutting tools to shape a raw piece of metal. Then the real work begins: students learn to write the computer code that tells a machine how to do it much faster.

Deep thoughts this week:

1. There is no skills gap.

2. Who will operate a highly sophisticated machine for $10 an hour?

3. Not a lot of people.

4. As a result, there is going to be a skills gap.

Nearly six million factory jobs, almost a third of the entire manufacturing industry, have disappeared since 2000. And while many of these jobs were lost to competition with low-wage countries, even more vanished because of computer-driven machinery that can do the work of 10, or in some cases, 100 workers. Those jobs are not coming back, but many believe that the industry’s future (and, to some extent, the future of the American economy) lies in training a new generation for highly skilled manufacturing jobs — the ones that require people who know how to run the computer that runs the machine.

This is partly because advanced manufacturing is really complicated. Running these machines requires a basic understanding of metallurgy, physics, chemistry, pneumatics, electrical wiring and computer code. It also requires a worker with the ability to figure out what’s going on when the machine isn’t working properly. And aspiring workers often need to spend a considerable amount of time and money taking classes like Goldenberg’s to even be considered. Every one of Goldenberg’s students, he says, will probably have a job for as long as he or she wants one.

And yet, even as classes like Goldenberg’s are filled to capacity all over America, hundreds of thousands of U.S. factories are starving for skilled workers. Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills.

Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.

In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.” The study’s conclusion, however, was scarier. Many skilled workers have simply chosen to apply their skills elsewhere rather than work for less, and few young people choose to invest in training for jobs that pay fast-food wages. As a result, the United States may soon have a hard time competing in the global economy. The average age of a highly skilled factory worker in the U.S. is now 56. “That’s average,” says Hal Sirkin, the lead author of the study. “That means there’s a lot who are in their 60s. They’re going to retire soon.” And there are not enough trainees in the pipeline, he said, to replace them.

One result, Sirkin suggests, is that the fake skills gap is threatening to create a real skills gap. Goldenberg, who has taught for more than 20 years, is already seeing it up close. Few of his top students want to work in factories for current wages.

Isbister is seeing the other side of this decision making. He was deeply frustrated when his company participated in a recent high-school career fair. Any time a student expressed interest in manufacturing, he said, “the parents came over and asked: ‘Are you going to outsource? Move the jobs to China?’ ” While Isbister says he thinks that his industry suffers from a reputation problem, he also admitted that his answer to a nervous parent’s question is not reassuring. The industry is inevitably going to move some of these jobs to China, or it’s going to replace them with machines. If it doesn’t, it can’t compete on a global level.

It’s easy to understand every perspective in this drama. Manufacturers, who face increasing competition from low-wage countries, feel they can’t afford to pay higher wages. Potential workers choose more promising career paths. “It’s individually rational,” says Howard Wial, an economist at the Brookings Institution who specializes in manufacturing employment. “But it’s not socially optimal.” In earlier decades, Wial says, manufacturing workers could expect decent-paying jobs that would last a long time, and it was easy to match worker supply and demand. Since then, with the confluence of computers, increased trade and weakened unions, the social contract has collapsed, and worker-employer matches have become harder to make. Now workers and manufacturers “need to recreate a system” — a new social contract — in which their incentives are aligned.

In retrospect, the post-World War II industrial model did a remarkably good job of supporting a system in which an 18-year-old had access to on-the-job training that was nearly certain to pay off over a long career. That system had its flaws — especially a shared complacency that left manufacturers and laborers unprepared for global trade and technological change. Manufacturers, of course, have responded over the past 20 years by dismantling it. Yet Isbister’s complaint suggests some hope — that there’s a lack of skilled workers; that factory layoffs overshot, and now need a reversal. As we talked, it became clear that Isbister’s problem is part of a larger one. Isbister told me that he’s ready to offer training to high-school graduates, some of whom, he says, will eventually make good money. The problem, he finds, is that far too few graduate high school with the basic math and science skills that his company needs to compete. As he spoke, I realized that this isn’t a narrow problem facing the manufacturing industry. The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.

Adam Davidson is co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money,” a podcast and blog.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 25, 2012, on page MM16 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Skills Don’t Pay the Bills.