Students Invited to Create Wind Turbines & Sustainable Dollhouses for Expo

KidWind & Green Dollhouse Challenge at the
Western MA Science & Sustainability Expo

This May, Greenfield Community College will be hosting the first annual Western Massachusetts Science and Sustainability Exposition. The expo is an opportunity for educators and students to share and showcase their projects, initiatives, services, and resources surrounding the topic of sustainability.

The exposition also includes two exciting learning opportunities for students- the KidWind Challenge and the Green Dollhouse Challenge. Each of the challenges calls for students to design and build a realistic, working model.  KidWind calls for a wind turbine, and Green Dollhouse requires students to create a dollhouse that uses renewable energy sources and features sustainable materials and design.

KIDWIND ♦ For KidWind, the turbines will be judged based on a few different criteria, including energy harnessing efficiency and cost to create. More information is available at

GREEN DOLLHOUSE ♦ In the Green DollHouse challenge, students will have to get creative to come up with as many different sustainable aspects as they can to incorporate into their house! From each challenge, students will learn about sustainably building, renewable energy, and architecture/design. Both projects can be tied in with studies of physics, environmental science, and/or architecture.

For more information about the expo or either of the challenges, contact Susan Reyes at 413-259-1658.

Q&A: Preschools in Western MA

Question and Answer

Ashfield Community Preschool in Ashfield, MA.

Anyone have a recommendation for a local preschool? Is there a preschool your kids went to that you would recommend to other parents?

  • Emily Gonzalez writes: Rise & Shine Academy in South Hadley. Director: Sharon Vogel. Incredible, nurturing place offering math and reading literacy programming for 3.9 years and up – it’s an amazing learning environment. Also houses the Heritage Criterion Early Intervention Program. (…and no, just a mom whose child attended R&S for 4 years and received EI services, I don’t work at either place).
  • Kelley Mitchell Boyko writes: Little Red Schoolhouse Amherst College ~ they are wonderful!
  • Marianne Bullock writes: The Giving Tree in Gill!
  • Gayle White writes: Smith College Campus School at Fort Hill.
  • Kelly Jabour Pramberger writes: Pioneer Valley Montessori School in Springfield. We are so happy with our choice to send our 3 and a half year old there.
  • Sara Cahillane writes: Love, love, love Mountain Brook Childrens Center in Deerfield. Can’t say enough.
  • Robin Sidel writes: Full Circle, Bernardston ♥
  • Sara Karz Reid writes: Full Circle School has been great for us, too!
  • Heather Richardson writes: Little Friends Morning Preschool in Belchertown
  • Susan Rees writes: Northampton Montessori- 3 amazing years!
  • Zevey Steinitz writes: The Common School in Amherst has one of the best programs around. Full disclosure- I teach in the 1st/2nd grade classroom. The nursery school has amazing teachers, curriculum, environment, and philosophy. Check it out.
  • Sarah Swersey writes: Nonotuck Community School – 5 wonderful years!
  • Kelly O’Neill Zieba writes: Greenwood Children’s Center in Longmeadow.
  • Stephanie Billings writes: Can’t say enough good things about Nonotuck Community School.
  • Sarah Buttenwieser writes: Had a fourth child to extend our Sunnyside (Northampton) years (okay, not exactly, but a benefit to be sure).
  • Stephanie Gale writes: Meadowlark was great for my daughter!
  • Rae Griffiths writes: Spring Street Preschool in Amherst. Great staff and program. Our son loved it.
  • Myanna Carbin-O’Brien writes: We are so happy at St. Paul’s Nursery School on Appleton Street in Holyoke.
  • Valle Dwight writes: I second the Nonotuck Community School recommendation… was there five or six years. ‎@Myanna — *I* went to St Paul’s Nursery School and I am 53 years old! I still remember naps on the ‘magic carpets’.
  • Maxine Oland writes: The Amherst Montessori School in South Amherst is a wonderful nurturing place for my children, and a fabulous community for all of us. They believe that children can do amazing things, and that we just have to provide the right environment to let them bloom. Toddler room starts at 18 months, Children’s House at 2.9 years.

7 Things to Tell the Teacher About Your Child

7 Things to Tell the Teacher About Your Child
By Emily Graham, PTO Today

When your child heads back to school, it’s a great time to start talking with his teacher.

What can you tell a teacher that will help him do his job better? You might be surprised. While your child’s teacher is the expert in education, no one knows more about your child than you do. It’s just as important for parents to tell teachers about issues at home that may affect school performance as it is for teachers to report how children are doing in the classroom.

Students do best when parents and teachers work together as partners. The start of a new school year is a great time to open a dialogue with your child’s teacher. Not sure where to start? Here are seven things teachers wish you would tell them. Sharing this information with a teacher will help her better understand your child’s needs and lay the groundwork for a cooperative relationship throughout the school year.

READ MORE:  7 Things to Tell the Teacher About Your Child –

Tips for a New School Year

Dads’ 10 Tips for the New School Year
By Joe Kelly

Our children and stepchildren are starting the new school year. Dads & Stepdads are a valuable resource for kids in school. Here are a few simple tips to help you help them get the most out of this year (pronouns alternate because we dads have both girls & boys):

1. Listen to what’s happening. If she’s stressed or upset about cliques, teams, new subjects, or anything else—give her your attention. Provide her time to get things out and do some processing before jumping in with judgments or suggestions.

2. Help him keep perspective. Gently remind him that there are more important things than who’s wearing what, or who is going out with whom. Let him know (in word and deed) that you love him for who he is, no matter what.

3. Set the stage. Ask your child what a successful school year would look like for her—friends, sports, activities, dating—and then have her tell you about how important each goal is to her and if she thinks each one is realistic. It’s OK to discuss your expectations regarding grades, but remember the important lessons learned outside the classroom and all the pressures which face our kids today.

4. Nurture your special father-child bond. Go out for ice cream, go swimming, shoot hoops, or do something you know he loves. The beginning of school is a great time to begin a new tradition. How about a lunch date the last Saturday of every month?

5. Let her cope and experiment. School can be a great place for her to learn important personal and interpersonal skills which will serve her later in life. Don’t rush in to solve every problem – listen. But never back down where her personal safety is concerned.

6. Walk a mile in his shoes. Try to imagine what he’s experiencing and what it means to him. Your understanding and empathy can help him make it through his own trials.

7. Celebrate success. We dads sometimes tend to focus more on what’s not going right than we do on what is going well. Be sure to let her know how proud you are of her talents and accomplishments—even if they are not readily recognized by others.

8. Be his hero. Stay always mindful of his unique spirit and give him your loyalty, kindness, acceptance, respect, and support. Your influence in his life is unique, so make it as positive as possible.

9. Tell stories about yourself. Many things have changed since you were a kid, but most of the important stuff is still the same. Share your own youthful struggles with staying true to yourself, your values, and your friends. Don’t make every story into a lecture, and be sure to admit your mistakes—they can teach her a lot (starting with humility)!

10. Honor his interests. Even if his passion isn’t your first choice for fun, be there for him, let him teach you about his interests, and learn why he’s passionate about them. Your validation is a huge help to him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Green Mama: Healthy School Lunches Begin at Home

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Back-to-School Means Back to Healthy Eating for this Family

It’s just about that time again. Time for alarm clocks and protests to sleep “just one more minute.” Time for grumbles over homework and carpools to sport’s practices. Time for frazzled parents and days where the schedule dictates your life. (Cue scream.)

Yes folks, the vacation’s over. It’s back-to-school time!

Take a deep breathe and you can almost smell the nervousness, anticipation and excitement in the air. And that’s just what some parents are exuding into the environment. What about the kids?

School is a touchy subject. Everybody has an opinion — about teachers, MCAS, the abundance of homework, the lack of homework, the importance of recess, the elimination of recess and most recently, the state of school lunchrooms.

There has been a strong movement in the United States, since Mrs. Obama started her Let’s Move campaign to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, to revamp school lunch programs. In April I spoke to Josh Viertel, the president of Slow Food USA a grassroots organization that, according to its website, “envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet.” Viertel spoke to me about the organizations Time for Lunch campaign which advocates for changes in the Child Nutrition Act, the piece of legislation that is responsible for funding and establishing guidelines for the National School Lunch Program.

“School lunch administrators, nutrition directors, lunch ladies … they want to feed kids food that makes them healthy and that tastes good but they really have their hands tied because of federal funding,” Viertel said. “Schools get on average less than a dollar a day per lunch to spend on ingredients, which makes it really impossible to serve food that’s good for kids.”

Viertel and his organization members are not the only ones who headed to Washington this year to address this issue.

Rachael Ray made a trip to the Capitol in May to plead her case. In an interview with Nightline’s Cythia McFadden posted on Ray’s website she commented on the importance of this bill for kid’s education: “It’s an opportunity to really level the playing field, no matter what socioeconomic background a kid comes from,” Rachael said. “When they are in school they (can) have access — all of them — to good nutrition if we the adults provide it for them.”

I am a firm believer in revamping the school lunch programs in our schools. Afterall, I am guilty of throwing the organic eating out the window during the school day and allowing my children to purchase the all-too-often unhealthy school lunches. But I also don’t want to put too much emphasis on the school’s responsibility in all this. Yes, they are responsible for feeding our children the healthiest, most nutritious food they can with the funding they have available to them, but so are we parents.

“Nutrition and healthy nutrition has everything to do with the success or the struggle that (your child) will have,” said Izzy Lenihan, a Pittsfield-based life, career and wellness coach and mother of two, in recent interview.

In the interview Lenihan discussed the importance of sending your child off to school with a good breakfast in their belly because if you don’t, she said, “there’s an indication that you’re already starting him (or her) off for failure.”

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Living in Forest Park?

Bioblitz in the Pioneer Valley
Saturday, June 5th in Springfield, MA

What’s Living in Forest Park? Forty seventh-grade students and a dozen local experts/scientists will try to answer that question on Saturday, June 5th, 2010 in a first-ever attempt at a bioblitz in Springfield’s beautiful Forest Park.

What is a Bioblitz? A bioblitz is a 24 hour event to find, identify, and record as many species as possible, from microbe to mammal, at a given location. Bioblitzes provide valuable information to park managers and get kids excited about science and the natural world.

During the weekend students will head out on various themed nature walks to explore, investigate, and record what is found. About a dozen local area experts have been recruited to lead these walks. For example, John Foster, of the New England Naturalist Training Center will lead an ecology exploration walk, and Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney, authors of Tracks & Signs of Insects and Other Invertebrates, will help students identify insects and more in the park.

According to Ms. Cesan, science teacher at Duggan Middle School, the United Nations Program for the Environment has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity to draw attention to the rapid loss of biodiversity the planet is experiencing. The Forest Park Bioblitz is a small, local action that we can undertake to increase awareness and appreciation for the biodiversity in our own backyard. In addition, the event applies and reinforces several state science standards that students have been working on this school year. Students are creating a booklet about the ecosystems in Forest Park and the data collected during the event will be included.

The event will not be all work and no play as kayaking lessons, a zoo tour, and campfire s’mores are also scheduled. Joining students around the campfire will be their entire team of teachers. Students and teachers are excited about this event. Consider coming to the park on Saturday and visiting our “base camp” near the grandstands to view student work and check in on our data as students collect and report it. The event runs 8am-3pm on Saturday June 5th.

For more information contact Duggan Middle School Science Teacher, Kerry Cesan at

Western MA Student Safety Alert

Michael A. Buoniconti, Superintendent of Schools for Mohawk Trail Regional School District, Hawlemont Regional School District Rowe School District writes:

Dear Mohawk School System Families,

Please be informed that State Police have reported three incidents (2 in Berkshire County and 1 in Franklin County) of two adult white males in a red Chevrolet roaming school grounds attempting to lure children toward the car.

Principals and staff have been directed to increase vigilance, particularly during recess and arrival/ dismissal times.

Michael A. Buoniconti
413-625-0192 x10

Bills Ban Bullying, Promote Healthy Foods in Schools

Massachusetts Senate Passes Safe School Package

State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces action by the Massachusetts Senate today advancing measures that ban bullying and update nutritional standards in schools with a pair of bills aimed at promoting a safe, healthy and productive learning environment for all students.

The Senate’s anti-bullying legislation prohibits physical, verbal and written acts that threaten or cause harm to another student, including Internet “cyber-bullying,” while a separate school nutrition bill establishes new standards for fresh food options in school cafeterias and vending machines.

“These two bills working together will make a dramatic difference in our school environment,” said Downing. “We know there’s a strong connection between health and safety and learning. By striking out fear and improving nutrition, we’re hoping to provide students with a more valuable and rewarding educational experience.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Does Homework Help or Hurt Our Kids?

GreatSchools writes:

Homework: What is it good for? “Absolutely nothing!” may be your child’s retort, but it’s not just stressed-out students who are questioning its value. From parents fed up with hours of busywork to experts studying the secrets of academic achievement, homework has come under scrutiny in households, classrooms, and universities nationwide.

This month GreatSchools takes homework head-on by reviewing the research on its efficacy and exploring common problems — using real kids as case studies — and how to solve them.

Related Posts:

Higher Financial Federal Support to Schools Serving Fresh Fruits, Veggies, Whole Grains

USDA Backs Rewarding Schools Serving Healthy Food
By Christopher Doering

Officials at the USDA are updating the nutrition and meal requirements used for school meals. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Schools that serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to pupils should see higher federal support rates than those serving less-healthier meals loaded with high fats and sugar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday. Child nutrition programs, which include school lunch and breakfast, are due for an overhaul but Congress is not expected to act before 2010. The government has targeted improving the nutritional quality and access to school meals amid rising child obesity rates.

“It is important for us to reward top performers,” Vilsack told the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We would encourage this committee and the Congress to take a look at reimbursement rates that would be linked directly to increased nutritional values.”

He did not suggest how large the bonus should be. Schools get $2.88 in cash and Agriculture Department-provided food for each lunch meal served for free to poor children this school year. School meal programs provide an estimated 40 million meals daily and more than half the student’s food intake during the school day. Students can receive free or subsidized meals if their family’s income is low enough. Some $16.9 billion was allotted for child nutrition in the fiscal year that opened on October 1, up $1.9 million from fiscal 2008.

Obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled in the last 20 years, and almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese. The epidemic of obesity is linked to a host of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln told Vilsack she was willing to pay more to serve healthier foods.


Hold a Commercial-Free Book Fair at Your School

CCFC’s Guide to Commercial-Free Book Fairs

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood writes: Are you tired of all the items for sale at your book fair that aren’t books–such as toys, video games, posters, and fashion accessories? Do you think that school book fairs should promote reading without promoting TV shows and movies?

A Commercial-Free Book Fair is the perfect way to:


  • Raise funds for a school in a manner consistent with its educational mission.
  • Promote literacy.
  • Provide an alternative for children who are already inundated with marketing for media-linked products.
  • Enrich classroom and library book collections.
  • Provide books to students–including the opportunity to purchase books for those who may not have the funds to buy them.
  • Support a local business.

CCFC’s Guide to Commercial-Free Book Fairs includes a directory of independent booksellers who support book fairs. (Booksellers who would like to be included in future editions of the guide should email

Local Elementary School Wish List

Chester Elementary School Teacher Wish List

The Chester PTO has submitted the following wish list on behalf of its teachers. Anyone who is able to supply these materials may deliver them to the school.


  • AA batteries for classroom cameras
  • Blank, burnable DVD’s and cases for class projects
  • Subscript ion to Brainpop! (an Internet website)
  • Supplies for the photo printer: (HP Photosmart A637)
  • Ink Cartridges HP tri color 110
  • Photo paper: HP Premium Photo Paper, soft gloss, 4” x 6”
  • Burnable CD’s (blank) and cases for class projects.
  • Boxes of Tissues
  • Clorox Wipe
  • Anti­-Bacterial Soap/Hand Sanitizer
  • Playground Chalk
  • Paper Towels
  • Old Magazines
  • Markers
  • Pencils
  • Colored Paper

Does your school have a wish list?  Post it below in our comment box and let local families know!

Breaking News From Gateway Regional School District: Flu Update

Wendy V. Long, Editor of Breaking News From Gateway writes:

Good afternoon:

The Gateway Regional School District is seeing growing numbers of absences of students who have Influenza-Like Illnesses (ILI). Health officials are presuming that people who show ILI right now have Swine Flu. Parents are asked not to send students to school if they have flu-like symptoms. Students who are ill should not return to school until their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours, without the use of products like Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

Read more here: Hilltown Families Community Bulletin Board

TAKE ACTION: Prevent Health Services Funding Cuts to Schools!

Mimi Stamer, President of the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization writes:

Funding cuts are projected for the school health services (line item 4590-0250). Please call the Governor’s office immediately at (617) 725-4000 with the following message:

“I am a parent/educator/community partner in _____ (town). I’m calling to ask that the Governor not make any additional cuts to line item 4590-0250 which has already undergone significant cuts this year during a time of great demand and stress on school health services. The Dept of Public Health, Essential Health Services grant is fundamental to school nurses’ ability to provide surveillance and management of the commonwealth’s students – an H1N1 vulnerable population. The grant also supports school nurse positions which are critical to making decisions on student dismissals and even school closures based upon population risk. The line item also supports school based health centers, a critical service for primary care especially needed during the downturn in the economy where parents rely on our services, especially if they are unemployed. It makes no sense to cut these safety nets for students in the Commonwealth. Thank you”

Let your voice be heard- and make the difference!

Mimi Stamer

Helping with Homework

Parents Surveyed on Hilltown Elementary School Closings

100 Links (August/September 2009)

100 Links (August/September 2009)

Nearly every day I add recommended links to the Hilltown Families bank of on-line resources.  Some of you might find these links well suited for your family, others, maybe not so much.  But it’s a fun and useful list worth perusing!  If you have a link you’d like to share, post it in our comment box.

Where are these links? You won’t find them on your blog reader nor via email if you subscribe to our newsfeed.  But if you visit the blog on-line and scroll half way down, on the left you will find the column, “Links We Recommend,” with a list of our most recent recommended links.  If you haven’t been visiting the site regularly to peruse these great resources, not to worry – below is the last 100 links we’ve posted in the past two months: (you will need to use the “back” button to return to this page).

Archived Lists of 100 Links: If you’d like to peruse our List of 100 Links from months past, click HERE and then scroll up or down.

Read the rest of this entry »

TAKE ACTION: “Back to School with Better Milk” Day of Action

Today is “Back to School with Better Milk” Day of Action

Our kids deserve the healthiest food possible, and parents deserve to have a say in what their kids eat. Milk is a staple for many of our nation’s youngsters, and it’s crucial that the milk served in schools be safe, healthy and free of artificial hormones. The artificial growth hormone rBGH is on its way out. Consumers are rejecting it at the marketplace, and many stores have stopped selling it completely. Now we need to make sure our public-school children have the same choice.

On September 16th, 2009 we’re having our first annual National “Know Your Milk” Day of Action to urge our Congressional Representatives to make the right choice for our kids, our cows and our future. Calls are easy to make and will make a big difference! Can you take 30 seconds now and make a call?

  • To find out how you can take action go HERE.

Revolutionize Your School Lunch Program

Lunch Room Updates

School Lunch Updates:

Lunch Lessons by Ann Cooper.  Remember how simple school lunches used to be? Youd have something from every major food group, run around the playground for a while, and you looked and felt fine. But today its not so simple. Schools are actually feeding the American crisis of childhood obesity and malnutrition. Most cafeterias serve a veritable buffet of processed, fried, and sugary foods, and although many schools have attempted to improve, they are still not measuring up: 78 percent of the school lunch programs in America do not meet the USDAs nutritional guidelines.  Chef Ann Cooper has emerged as one of the nations most influential and most respected advocates for changing how our kids eat. In fact, she is something of a renegade lunch lady, minus the hairnet and scooper of mashed potatoes. Ann has worked to transform cafeterias into culinary classrooms. In Lunch Lessons, she and Lisa Holmes spell out how parents and school employees can help instill healthy habits in children.  They explain the basics of good childhood nutrition and suggest dozens of tasty, home-tested recipes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The pages are also packed with recommendations on how to eliminate potential hazards from the home, bring gardening and composting into daily life, and how to support businesses that provide local, organic food.  Yet learning about nutrition and changing the way you run your home will not cure the plague of obesity and poor health for this generation of children. Only parental activism can spark widespread change. With inspirational examples and analysis, Lunch Lessons is more than just a recipe book—it gives readers the tools to transform the way children everywhere interact with food.

"Lunch Lessons" by Ann Cooper.

How the USDA Helped Bring Processed Food to School Lunch

Most adults don’t have glorious memories of school lunch. It was sloppy Joes, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti with meat sauce, and it was usually on the bland side. But the food wasn’t bad, and it was almost always cooked from scratch by an army of school lunch ladies. Read more at School Lunch Talk.

Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children

Remember how simple school lunches used to be? You’d have something from every major food group, run around the playground for a while, and you looked and felt fine. But today it’s not so simple. Schools are actually feeding the American crisis of childhood obesity and malnutrition. Most cafeterias serve a veritable buffet of processed, fried, and sugary foods, and although many schools have attempted to improve, they are still not measuring up: 78 percent of the school lunch programs in America do not meet the USDA’s nutritional guidelines. Chef Ann Cooper has emerged as one of the nation’s most influential and most respected advocates for changing how our kids eat.

In Lunch Lessons, she and Lisa Holmes spell out how parents and school employees can help instill healthy habits in children. They explain the basics of good childhood nutrition and suggest dozens of tasty, home-tested recipes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The pages are also packed with recommendations on how to eliminate potential hazards from the home, bring gardening and composting into daily life, and how to support businesses that provide local, organic food. Yet learning about nutrition and changing the way you run your home will not cure the plague of obesity and poor health for this generation of children. Only parental activism can spark widespread change. With inspirational examples and analysis, Lunch Lessons is more than just a recipe book—it gives readers the tools to transform the way children everywhere interact with food.

American Lunchroom: A Photo Essay

Check out American Lunchroom for a photo essay of what our kids are eating at school: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Viewers are invited to send in a photo of what their school lunch looks like too.

Hands-on Sustainability Curriculum

If You Give a Kid a Shovel
by Joe Gillespie

Have you ever watched kids dig potatoes for the first time? It is like a treasure hunt. Or experienced the joy of pulling a beautiful, long orange carrot, washing it, and eating it right then and there? There is no substitute for these experiences.

I have been gardening with students for a long time. More recently, I have written a couple of successful grants to purchase wind turbines and solar panels, along with community educational materials on alternative energy. For years, I did all of this with sixth graders. When I got bumped to eighth grade, I began teaching a course called Sustainable Living. I believe that I am teaching important life skills, and preparing students for a new future that may be much different than our current way of living.

Sustainable Living is a semester-long, elective class designed to teach students about sustainability through the use of our extensive garden, our rooftop solar panels, and small wind turbines. We immerse students into the world of gardening and eating the good food that we grow. With our thirty raised beds, a greenhouse, extensive worm bins, and composting area as an outdoor classroom, we learn about everything from building good soil to seed germination to preserving our crops. We monitor our own solar and wind energy production, and cook and prepare food twice a week.

Every day is a little different and always very hands-on. I have found something very interesting about teaching gardening over the years. There is usually no immediate gratification, which is what students are used to and what they desire. Other than seeing a radish seed pop out of the soil fairly quickly, most plants take two to three months to grow to a harvestable size. And there is all of the weeding and watering to do. Yet the reward is often so great, that if you can just get them that far, the concepts they learn are deeply ingrained in their being.

Read the rest of this entry »

Children’s Crusade of 1963 Sparks Cafeteria Food Boycott

Fourth Graders Boycott Cafeteria Food

Fourth grade students at Nuestro Mundo Elementary School in Madison, WI started a group called Boycott School Lunch (BCSL) last fall after conducting some “gross experiments” in the school cafeteria, like measuring how much grease they could squeeze out of a hamburger. They had been learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement in history class. Their teacher, Joshua Forehand, showed them a movie about the Children’s Crusade that took place in Birmingham, AL in 1963 (lesson plan), and this sparked the students to organize a peaceful protest for healthier cafeteria food.

Click here to read more over at Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy.

TAKE ACTION: Healthy, Local & Organic School Food

Healthy, Local & Organic School Food Now

School food: It’s never had a reputation for being good, but these days, it’s downright unhealthy. Obesity and a host of diet-related diseases are linked to the school lunch menu, which is loaded with over-processed starches, fats, genetically modified ingredients, and meats laced with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Squeezed into buying on the cheap, school districts buy milk that has been produced with the use of genetically-modified bovine growth hormone and beef that gets recalled for the E. coli contamination that is inevitable in factory farm operations where corn-fed cattle wade in their own waste all the way to the slaughterhouse. Very few vitamin-rich fresh fruits and vegetables are part of the lunch menu, even though it’s universally understood this is the key to improving childhood and long-term health.

The 2009 Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is an opportunity to change what kids eat at school and raise a generation of kids who understand good nutrition and value locally produced, fresh, organic food.

Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School

Testing of Kindergartners Is Out of Control, Says Children’s Advocacy Group in New Report

Photo credit: (ccl) Woodley Wonderworks

Photo credit: (ccl) Woodley Wonderworks

Studies show standardized tests and test prep are now daily activities in many kindergartens. Why? Molly Holloway, a mother of twin kindergartners in Bowie, Maryland, can’t understand why her children must take standardized tests every month in math, reading, social studies, and science.

“One of the teachers has told me that the kindergarten curriculum is what used to be the first-grade curriculum,” Holloway wrote. “What evidence do we have that this pushing is beneficial? While some children can handle the pressure, others cannot. One of my daughters struggles to keep up and hates school.”¹

A mother in Illinois writes, “In order to prepare kids ahead of time for the state tests, hard core curriculum must start in kindergarten. Our kids are not actually getting smarter. The scores are not increasing. And the rates of children with anxiety issues are increasing rapidly.”²

Recent studies in New York City and Los Angeles confirm what these and other parents have observed: standardized testing and test prep have become daily activities in many public kindergartens. Teachers say they are under pressure to get children ready for the third-grade tests. The 254 teachers surveyed in the studies said they spent an average of 20 to 30 minutes per day in test-related activity.

The findings are documented in a new report, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School (pdf), released on March 20, 2009 by the nonprofit Alliance for Childhood. The authors, Edward Miller and Joan Almon, say that kindergarten testing is “out of control.” (Available is an 8-page summary of the report (pdf), including recommendations for action)

High-stakes testing and test preparation in kindergarten are proliferating, as schools increasingly are required to make decisions on promotion, retention, and placement in gifted programs or special education classes on the basis of test scores. In New York City, for example, kindergarten children take a standardized I.Q. test to determine whether they qualify for “gifted and talented” classes. The city is also implementing a plan to test kindergarten, first-, and second-grade children as part of schools’ performance evaluations. The test scores are used to assign letter grades, A to F, to all of the city’s public schools. The grades are then used to determine rewards and punishments, including cash bonuses for teachers and principals and whether principals will be fired and schools shut down.

“Rigid testing policies do not make sense in early childhood education,” states the Alliance for Childhood report. “Standardized testing of children under age eight, when used to make significant decisions about the child’s education, is in direct conflict with the professional standards of every educational testing organization.”

Young children are notoriously unreliable test takers. They can do well one day and poorly on the same test on another day.

“A major problem with kindergarten tests is that relatively few meet acceptable standards of reliability and validity,” says the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “The probability of a child being misplaced is fifty percent—the same odds as flipping a coin. … Flawed results lead to flawed decisions, wasted tax dollars, and misdiagnosed children.”

The National Association of School Psychologists agrees, saying that “evidence from research and practice in early childhood assessment indicates that issues of technical adequacy are more difficult to address with young children who have little test-taking experience, short attention spans, and whose development is rapid and variable.”

It’s not just parents who are up in arms over the tests for tots. Anthony Colannino, a Waltham, Massachusetts elementary school principal, is upset that his kindergartners are now required to take fill-in-the-right-bubble tests. “Now we’re all the way down to 5- and 6-year-olds taking a pencil and paper test,” he told his local newspaper. “My students and others across the state are being judged on reading material above their grade level.”³

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Backpack Program Helps MA School Kids

Brenda Mellor of Randolph, MA writes:

We recently started a backpack program in our school in Randolph Mass. While it is only in it’s third week of operation it is already evident how important it is to the children it serves. I saw a child take a hotdog out of the trash to eat one Friday so I approached the school social worker to find out if his family utilized the food pantry, etc. It was a wake-up call to me just how hungry some children are. That weekend I hopped on the computer and researched how to help hungry children – the backpack program was the first hit I got. Needless to say, that child, along with several others went home with a backpack the following Friday. If websites like this did not publicize the great works they are doing this program may not have been started at our school. Thank you and keep up the great work.

Obama’s New Chef Skewers School Lunches

Obama’s New Chef Skewers School Lunches

Before he agreed to cook for the Obama family in the White House, Chicago chef Sam Kass was already talking about changing the way American children eat.

During weekly Tuesday gatherings at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago, Mr. Kass hosted “Rethinking Soup,” which he described as “a communal event where we will eat delicious, healthy soup and have fresh, organic conversation about many of the urgent social, cultural, economic and environmental food issues that we should be addressing.”

In May, over a meal of locally-produced beef and barley soup, Mr. Kass lamented the sorry state of the National School Lunch Program, which provides low-cost or free lunches to schoolchildren. He noted that what gets served up to kids is influenced by government agricultural subsidies. As a result, he says, meals served to students are low in vegetables and disproportionately high in fat, additives, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. (He also links the high consumption of sugary foods and food additives to learning difficulties and attention deficit disorder, although the medical community remains divided on that issue.) …


Encourage Oprah to Support Healthy School Lunches

Amy Kalafa of Two Angry Moms writes:

Recently, Oprah did a couple of shows focusing on the emotional toll of childhood obesity. The shows were touching, powerful, and an important step in rethinking how we nourish our kids.

We want Oprah to broaden this discussion to address the need to fundamentally change how we feed kids in America both in school and at home. We want to extend the conversation beyond obesity and diabetes and delve into the impact of poor nutrition on learning capacity, cognitive function, social adaptability, behavior issues, and general health and wellness. Even more importantly, we want to spark action to effect meaningful change in the school food environment to enhance our collective ability to create healthy, well-adjusted, thriving children.

Please take a moment to reach out to Oprah. Let her know we want to fill her audience with Angry Moms working to ignite the kind of positive change that will sustain our kids as well as the planet they will inherit.

Go to, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click on “contact us” [it’s in small print at the very bottom]. Under the heading “The Oprah Winfrey Show” at the middle of the page, there are prompts to either “send in your thoughts” or “send in your show suggestions.” Click on either one and encourage Oprah to join the Two Angry Moms movement and show her audience the inspiring people and programs that are already making a positive impact around the country. Let Oprah know that with her help, we can reach the tipping point in this movement.

Let’s keep our grassroots growing!

January 26-30 Is No Name-Calling Week

Change for Kids: Working With Other Nonprofits to Make a Difference

Change for Kids: Working With Other Nonprofits to Make a Difference

In 1996, a group of friends decided to make a difference by raising money to buy school supplies for kindergarten teachers at four New York City schools. Three fund-raising events later, other individuals and nonprofit organizations interested in making a difference joined the effort.  Check out this link to find a description of how nonprofit organizations can work together over at Education World®.

Big Yellow School Bus Grant Program for Schools

New Massachusetts grant program provides essential funds for cultural field trips

We have heard from Local Cultural Councils across Massachusetts that transportation costs are a growing factor in whether or not schools can afford to send students on cultural field trips. Given that there are already huge demands on LCC funds, the Massachusetts Cultural Council has sought ways to support LCCs in their work and to supplement the funding available for young people to connect with art and culture across the state. We are pleased to report that Bank of America Charitable Foundation has invested in a partnership with MCC to help communities meet these rising transportation costs.

The Big Yellow School Bus is a new grant program to help schools meet the costs of providing educational field trips to cultural institutions and events across the Commonwealth for their students. The program invites any K-12 school in Massachusetts to apply for a $200 grant to be put towards the cost of transportation for cultural field trips during the 2008-2009 school year; grants will be awarded on a first come first served basis. Read the rest of this entry »

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