February 2011

Today we have a mix of children here at nap time, two twos have fallen asleep on their beds (a mat and a portable crib). The others, a four, a six, and a seven, are busy in private worlds. The four and six spent a long while at the project table, making creations of out cardboard, foam, tape, and glue. The seven read a long, long time in the back room, with the door closed. The four checked in every so often with her and with me in the kitchen doing dishes. Now all three girls are in the back room. I’ve taken lots of pictures today, but for now, I choose not to intrude. I hear soft voices. I hear the click of something on a wooden toddler track toy. I hear pretend animal sounds. I don’t know what they’re playing, but I feel quite sure they’re safe. The door is slightly ajar, and I peek through once or twice, don’t need to go back. Even the twos had private time on their beds. The one on the mat looked at a book, talked to and held a doll, pooped in her diaper. I changed her and put her back to bed, rubbed her back a minute or two while she closed her eyes and fell to sleep, my privilege on a no after school February vacation day when normally I would have been driving to do school pickup. The other two fussed around in his crib, pacifier and blankie and crib and imagination his company, talking softly while Natalie Merchant sang poems turned lullabies nearby.

There has been a lot on the Sudbury Model Discussion listserv this week about strengths and weaknesses of that model. One thing that was mentioned was the importance of privacy for children. My son has told me that is one thing that is different for him in Sudbury Valley as opposed to his public middle school. He can think his own thoughts. He can take time to think about what interests him. Seems a basic right, but so many of our children are not able to do just that, think their own thoughts, think about what interests them. I wonder on the consequences of that as I fight again to save our after school program, insurance canceled on my van as of April 8th unless I stop transporting children, another obstacle to holding after school care in my home, where simple things like doors and small private spaces and rooms and respects for the privacy and autonomy of children allow kids every week day year round, save four when we’re closed for vacation, to think their own thoughts. Children in large institutional after school and camp programs must have time to do the same, but privacy is a rare gift in most large programs, where staff must observe children full time, where play behind a closed door or under a bush or in the woods might be prohibited, where even using the bathroom is monitored by passes and sign out sheets and punishable, in schools, if not in child care programs, by loss of recess or other contradictory measures for a child who needs time to think his or her own thoughts.

Another thing worth fighting for, and I wonder if it’s written somewhere, must google The International Rights of the Child and see who’s on this so far.

Here’s what I found, excerpted from the full statement on the International Rights of the Child, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm:

Article 12

1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

Article 13

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

Article 14

1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.

3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Article 15

1. States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.

2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of these rights other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 16

1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 17

States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.

To this end, States Parties shall:

(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;

(b) Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;

(c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books;

(d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;

(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18.


I’ve been following and minimally contributing to the discussion of data walls in Somerville Public Schools. My daughter wondered, if we don’t believe in data walls, and we think they’re wrong, can’t all the parents just not send their kids to school and wouldn’t they have to stop because otherwise there wouldn’t be a school? I think she would do a fine job in Wisconsin or Egypt. She’s got a mind to fight with her feet for her ideals. She said she wouldn’t go to school if there was a data wall in her classroom, as it’s private information, and she doesn’t want anyone seeing her scores on the wall.

While this article and visual about data walls from the Somerville Public Schools Central Administration suggests displaying individual data on the walls of the classroom and in school corridors is anonymous, parents in a number of our schools have reported that children as young as first grade could identify their own data and that of their friends, and that in one case, the data was displayed with names, and the colors of the kids’ were coded, red for low, yellow for middle, green for high scorers. That one did violate someone’s sense of right and wrong and Central Administration made sure it was taken down. However, you know news travels. If each child knows his or her own score, which is the goal, it’s not likely those scores will remain anonymous for long.

My kids have been high and middle and low scorers. None of the three, ranging from ten to sixteen years old, think that posting individual student standardized test score or improvement data on the walls is a good idea. They have many reasons. Recently my ten year old daughter was acknowledged individually by her teachers for improving from “scoring worse than most of the kids in her class in math to scoring better than a lot of them” and as part of her class by her principal for “scoring as a class better than other classrooms at their grade level” (quotes denoting my daughter’s words, not the teachers’ or principal’s). While she and I both expect the teachers’ intentions were to support my daughter’s progress “It should be private.” was her response. “And, why should I feel good for doing better than someone else? Isn’t the point to do well for myself?” Not to mention the concerns that swirl in my mind, about valuing kids based on test scores, about devaluing other aspects of human development, about extrinsic motivation, about the unseemly side effects of ranking kids by academic test scores within a diverse socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, language, and learning community. My concerns go on and on.

Proudly, though, Central Administration tells us that data walls will continue to be used throughout our school system,

“to empower children, to make them active participants in their own learning and to be in control of their individual success.  Students should feel a sense of personal efficacy, learning to make a straight-line connection between hard work and success, providing a visual reinforcement for the belief that “smart is something you get” and celebrates the application of effort and reaching for higher levels of achievement.”

I personally, don’t buy a word of it. Hogwash is what I say to data walls and research and consultants and administration telling us to put up with them in our schools.

Here is the cut and paste article from the SPS newsletter. Read it and decide for yourself how you feel and what you should do about data walls.

It’s hard to get it to fit properly within the margins, so here’s the link to the online article:


Assessment Practices

The Somerville Public Schools has a comprehensive system of assessing student progress that includes teacher developed classroom assessments, quarterly grade reports, local assessments, and statewide standardized tests including MCAS, MEPA and MELA-O. Assessment data is used to individualize instruction in the classroom, make decisions about student needs, and improve instructions across grades and department.

Statewide Standardized Tests
MCAS: The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also regularly assesses student proficiency in Reading, English Language Arts, Math and Science/Technology using theMassachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). The MCAS tests students in all public and charter schools across the Commonwealth to ensure that schools are meeting the standards set by the Massachusetts Department of Education. 

The elementary MCAS tests are intended to help schools and teachers know if students have mastered the content required to succeed in high school. This is important because high school students and adult learners in the ADP program must pass currently achieve a grade of Proficient or higher on three MCAS tests (English Language Arts, Math, Science) as one requirement of earning a diploma. Students may take these tests up to five times to achieve a passing score. MCAS tutoring, paid for with a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is offered on Saturday mornings at Somerville High School to provide students at Somerville High School, Full Circle Alternative High School and SCALE provides high quality tutoring that has ensured a 99% MCAS proficiency rate in the Somerville Public Schools.

The MCAS test schedule in the Somerville Public Schools is available in the District’s online calendar. The statewide test scheduleis available through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

MEPA and MELA-O: The Somerville Public Schools also tests English Language Learners on their oral and written English proficiency using the Commonwealth’sMeasurement of English Proficiency Assessment (MEPA). MEPA test results are used by the District to determine if a student continues to need sheltered English Immersion Program or other academic support services to help them master English. The MEPA and MELA-O test schedule in the Somerville Public Schools is available in the District’s online calendar.

Local Assessment

Providing teachers with “real time” data on how their students are progressing towards their grade level standards is the reason for the Somerville Public Schools’ comprehensive, interim local assessment program called Measures of Academic Progress (MAPS). This data, collected from students in Grades 2 – 8 three times per year (fall, winter and spring) in the areas of vocabulary, reading and mathematics allows teachers to better understand individual student’s mastery of lessons and concepts so they adjust instruction accordingly.

Data walls show students, confidentially or anonymously, how they are progressing on classroom standards 

Another benefit to having such detailed assessment data is in student goal setting. As part of this goal-setting process, assessment data is shared with students by their teacher. This often happens as part of a individual conference, and students are encouraged to work toward improvement goals that they establish for themselves.

Visual Displays of Student Growth Data: Student assessment data may be displayed in the classroom or in an adjacent hallway. Teachers make sure that students are not individually identified in these displays and that improvement, or growth, is highlighted. The use of assessment data for goal setting and for public display has a common research base, and its overall goal is to empower children, to make them active participants in their own learning and to be in control of their individual success.  Students should feel a sense of personal efficacy, learning to make a straight-line connection between hard work and success, providing a visual reinforcement for the belief that “smart is something you get” and celebrates the application of effort and reaching for higher levels of achievement.

Guidelines for visual displays of student growth data, shared with Principals and Assistant Principals in mid-February 2011, are as follows:

  • Growth is Best : The data display’s emphasis should be on growth instead of absolute performance. That is,change in the RIT score (in MAP, Measurement of Academic Progress, Somerville’s formative assessment system for grades 2 – 8) should be emphasized, not the RIT score itself or a comparison to other students.
  • Data Groupings : Individual student data is but one of a number of data groupings that are possible. Teachers have reported success with plotting growth on the whole class level. Other schools have tried grade level and school level groupings to chart growth. Whichever type of grouping is chosen, the objective is celebrating success, measuring student progress towards the teacher’s learning goals.
  • Teacher Choice : Since the use of student data sharing is an instructional strategy, our position has always been that teachers can choose how to implement the data sharing strategy. A data sharing strategy is required of all elementary teachers, but posting of individual student data is not required. Among the strategies that can be used successfully, alone or in combinations the teacher feels are appropriate, are goal-setting conferences, maintaining “growth folders” for individual students including graphical displays of growth, other visual displays. These strategies will vary depending on the grade level and the teacher’s judgment about the best ways to motivate their students forward. The postings can be physically located in the classroom or an adjacent hallway.
  • Opt Out: Parents/guardians can opt out if they prefer their child’s individual data not be displayed publicly. Several circumstances involving opt out have already surfaced and have been addressed with sensitivity by teachers and administrators on site. Detailed administrative guidelines for the opt out option are still under development.

This week my children are away. They’re with their dad in Texas. My friends and family envy or admire this time I have alone. To a person at many points in life, a break from mothering for a busy mother seems naturally to be a good thing. Partly, it is, but it’s a good thing for me that I have to come to slowly. I don’t relish living life half parted from my kids. It wasn’t the plan. No one I know goes into a divorce wishing to divorce the children, but in effect, half time, that’s the reality. If you allow and have the privilege of sharing custody, the kids aren’t with you half the time, and that means half the time you live a different life than you imagined when you conceived them, both in your dreams and in your body.

Why I choose this to start this piece, I’m not yet sure. I hope I’ll figure that out as I write. I’ve been forcing myself to do all kinds of things this afternoon other than writing an entry here, though that’s what I most want to do. Writing here for me is both a treat and a necessity. I have to discipline myself not to go overboard, not to pour too much emotion or time or energy into blogging. Surely that’s been discussed elsewhere. Fortunately, or not, I haven’t taken time to read about blog addiction on the web.

But back to age mixing. Today, I had a group of school age and younger kids on my own in the day care. I loved it..On the walk home from the park, for some reason I wish I could remember, because it was probably significant, we had a talk about the ages of the members of our group. I pointed out that we had representation from each year from 2 to 7, plus a forty four. Two, three, four, five, six, and seven-year-olds ringed the wagon. My four pointed out we had two two year olds. Yep, we do, I responded. My seven wondered if I was forty four. Yep, I am, I responded. Then he wanted to know the age of Liana, our other teacher. She turned fifty this year, I informed. The seven’s mom also turned fifty last year. Go figure. Then he wanted to know the age of our other teacher, Alice. She’s in her sixties, but you’d have to ask her for the exact age, I replied. Hmmm. Forty, fifty, sixty, I commented, thinking in my mind how lovely it is to be with such a wide age range of people, of all I had learned from this little crew throughout the morning, how to observe carefully, how to respond to distress, how to magnify and shrink a photo on the blog, how to be loving to a friend, how to remember the names of all the kids we were expecting that day, how to learn to read as a homeschooler, as a bilingual German speaker, as the sister of an older brother in a more traditional school, how to express independence and to move gracefully in and out of power struggle, how competently a four and six can peel and cut a cucumber, how carefully two twos can clean up a table full of playdough and toys and scrub it clean with sponges, how observant children from two to seven can be, how much fun running and helping and moving a trash can can be, how new learning to open a box of cheerios, to set a table, to pour milk into a cup, to take turns serving from a bowl at a table full of friends, how difficult or easy to ask for and accept help.

There’s barely a thing these kids can’t teach me which I don’t need to learn or relearn about life, every single day.

Which brings me back to the age mixing thing. In a new way this time, not the one I thought to write about when I started here. If I can learn from a group of little kids (and adults) each day, and I’m forty two years older than some, twenty years younger than others, why oh, why do we think kids from infants through college age need to learn or do learn best in single year groups?

This week the sun came out. The temperature rose. The ice and snow began to melt. This is what the children found, or a smattering of what I captured with my eyes and camera. Of course, they found much more. Mystery and wonder and hope. Some would call it trash.

As I uploaded pictures, I found some more signs of spring, apples from fall cooked to the last batch of applesauce, and our once quiet girl making a stick puppet with a fresh attitude, double meaning there if you check out the tongue sticking out and the big fat butt behind and the mischievous grin on her face..signs of buried life emerge in all kinds of ways.

Also, my perennial attraction to the life of plants indoors, roses for love, pussywillows and forced bulbs for spring, same as love some would say.

Today is one of those days I marvel at my good fortune. It’s Valentine’s Day and I love my job. The after school kids are busy as bees. First the tens drag a table from the basement, set up a stand on the stoop to sell baked goods for Valentine’s Day, another Tree House Fundraiser. Meanwhile, my six and I bake brownies for the sale. The other sixes get to drawing, then racing matchbox cars, then making obstacle courses out of paper and tape, wishing for cardboard, which I have, a big box I’d been saving from my sixteen’s snowboard, and a bunch of stuff in the recycling in the kitchen. They get busy. Then my six makes her own construction out of tissue and paper from the same recycling bin. Then I take pictures of it, and she and the other sixes take pictures and videos first of the bake sale, then of the car ramp, and then they’re giggling like crazy. My teens come home from school with heart shaped cookies in their hands and smiles on their faces, contributing their baby sitting money from looking after day care kids while their parents are out at night, and my fourteen leaves with a brownie from the bake sale..the six’s mom shows up with strawberries for the kids, which they mow through like nobody’s business.

I think a lot about good food and treats and making and sharing food. I also think about the privilege of being in a well-provisioned home, both for my family and my after school kids. As I shop at Whole Foods, the checkout and bagging folks talk with me about my work, we value each other’s commitment to good food for kids and they are extra kind to me as I wheel out of the store with two full carts of food. This Sunday a mom caught me in the parking lot and commented on my big family. When I told her about my day care, she asked more, and I asked about the places where she has sent her daughter, and she also appreciated the WFDC commitment to good food for children.

As I think about our Charter School this week I realize we haven’t yet talked about food, cooking, smells, tastes, feels of the school, cooking as project and eating as nourishment for body and soul. Must put that on the agenda. Glad it’s front and center in my life in WFDC and at home. Good food makes happy people, especially when they make and share it with the ones they love. It’s also just good teaching and learning in the 21st century, eat local, make it yourself, notice how food tastes and feels and smells, appreciate the producers and the consumers and their interconnected lives, value the diversity of food that our planet provides, keep it alive, all that is big stuff these days, personal as political, city and country, we all have to figure it out.

As I read through the category list in publishing this entry, I think about Reggio Emilia and the focus there on good food. One more reason to focus on that model. I also see in my mind the kitchen at SVS, the kids there working, talking, fund raising, helping each other and the school, socializing and finding something that makes them happy. I remember my morning of chopping melon and setting up breakfast and lunch with the help of my younger kids, the solace and pleasure and satisfaction and sense of belonging we all get when we make and share meals. How many schools and child care centers have kitchens and food which kids and teens prepare? More should. Another goal for this lifetime, to create or preserve that option for more kids and teens and their caregivers and teachers. Going to think on that awhile.

This week I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I wrote cards. I wrote condolence cards. I wrote a thinking of you card. I wrote a thank you card. I wrote a pile of Valentine cards. My handwriting is awful. The cards I’ve been collecting in my fantasy world of being a card or letter writer are lovely. This morning after I had written my cards for Valentine’s Day, my daughter came to say good morning. She read my card and I watched her face. I read her card, even more hand made than mine, of construction paper and markers and green foil twisties given to the after school kids by Alice as she clears her house in anticipation of a renovation, out of love. Then we sifted through the boxes of cards, admiring the designs, talking about our favorites, handling the heavy stock, talking about which one I had chosen for each person.

I gave one to my son, and watched his face, too, and he thanked me. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been in the habit of writing cards or letters. This week at the park, I was asking my fellow caregivers how they met their partners. My friend Sue told me about meeting her husband in England, where she’s from and he’s not, and about the letters they wrote one another when they were apart. I didn’t hear anything about the content, but I remembered writing letters to my friends at that age in my teens and twenties, the anticipation and feeling they engendered, the sense of caring and being cared for that traveled in the mail.

Here’s to learning new things, relearning old habits, to Valentine’s Day in the celebrating many kinds of love sort of way, not only in the romantic love is for two birds in a nest kind of way. We all need love. We all have a story to share or a kind word to express. Might as well do it on Valentine’s Day, while the whole world’s expecting it. Then maybe it’ll begin to be a habit..and who knows what might happen next.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Fill the world with love in whatever way you can. Last night it was heart shaped brownies at bedtime. This morning its cards and chocolate chip sourdough pancakes, batter passed on since 1915, smoothies for pink and fruit and yogurt, then hand made pizza for dinner. Tomorrow it will likely be more Valentine making in the day care with Alice, card sharing and parties for my daughter at school, love potions (really milk shakes) for sale at SVS, whole world thinking on love, can’t be all bad.

This week the snow in the yard froze and the fun that we had earlier in the week digging holes and caves and picking up chunks to eat had to shift..Liana brought the colored watercolor in spray bottles and the kids painted snow. Here are a few pictures of day 2. I wasn’t there day 1, but Alice took good pictures that day, too.

When I upload the pictures, I notice kids also did chalk drawing on the house and stairs and there was a lot of lying on the ground. Snow and ice as art and sensory experience, outdoor art. They’ve been so many varieties of snow and ice this year that our postage stamp yard has kept us busy for weeks.

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