Educationally Speaking is an Oakland Schools Intermediate School District broadcast which focuses on important local and national topics related to education.
In 2019, Educationally Speaking earned an Honorable Mention from PR Daily’s Digital Marketing and Social Media Awards. In 2021, Educationally Speaking was the recipient of a Golden Achievement Award from the National School Public Relations Association.
Educationally Speaking is syndicated on three local radio stations. You can tune in:
- at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Saturday on 89.5 WAHS (Avondale).
- at 2 p.m. on Fridays on Radio Centro Multicultural (Pontiac).
- at noon on Saturdays, with replays at 5 p.m. on Saturday and noon and 5 p.m. on Sunday on 89.3 Lakes FM (West Bloomfield).
Due to the pandemic, and how it affected learning these past several months, there are many students who are going to need additional support and resources this school year. In particular, those conversations seem to center around English Learners.
A recent article published in Education Week pointed out that just because English Learners may need more support this fall, doesn’t mean that they are behind other students.
This podcast examines the assumptions the general population often has when it comes to our English Learners and how to dispel those assumptions.
Suzanne Toohey, Oakland Schools Supervisor of Instruction and Pedagogy
Christy Osborne, Oakland Schools English as a Second Language (ESL) Consultant
Hadeel Azzo, K-12 English Language Development (ELD) Consultant with the West Bloomfield School District
Rob Beltz, English Language Development (ELD) Instructor and Trauma-Informed Practitioner, Novi Community School District
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
- Myths, assumptions, call it what you will, but historically there've been many misconceptions about English Learners . We are going to dispel some of those ideas in this episode of Educationally Speaking. Welcome to Educationally Speaking, a podcast which focuses on important topics related to education that affects students, parents, teachers, and administrators. My name is Sarah Davis, the communications specialist for Oakland schools, and the host of this podcast. Due to the pandemic, and how it affected learning these past several months, there are many students who are going to need additional support and resources this school year. In particular, those conversations seem to center around English Learners . A recent article published in Education Week, pointed out that just because English Learners may need more support this fall, doesn't mean that they're behind other students. Our guests today are here to talk about assumptions the general population often has when it comes to our English Learners, and how to dispel those assumptions. Please welcome Suzanne Toohey, Oakland School's supervisor of Instruction and Pedagogy. Christy Osborne, ESL consultant for Oakland Schools. Rob Beltz, ELD instructor and trauma informed practitioner for the Novi Community School District. And Hadeel Azzo, K-12 ELD consultant with the West Bloomfield School District. Welcome to all of you. I want to start off first by going through some acronyms here, because they can get confusing. So when we say ESL, that stands for English as a Second Language, ELD means English Language Development, and EL means English Learner. And I just kind of wanna get those straight because I've already said a couple of them. And going forward in this podcast, we'll likely be saying them again. And I wanna make sure our audience has a clear understanding of what each acronym represents. So with that, Suzanne, can you define for us what an English Learner is?
- Well first, thank you for having me on the show. English Learner is defined in our federal law. The elementary and secondary education act defines an English learner as an individual who is aged three through 21, enrolled or preparing to enroll in elementary or secondary school, not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English. A Native American or Alaska native, a native resident of outlying areas, and who comes from an environment where language other than English, has had a significant impact on the individual's level of English language proficiency, or who is migratory, whose native language is language other than English, and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant. And, and this is really important. Who's difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language, may be sufficient to deny the individual or the student, the ability to meet the challenging state academic standards. The ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English, or the opportunity to participate fully in society. That's a big definition. It's also important to note that nationally, over 80% of elementary English Learners , and 65% of secondary English Learners are born in the United States. Nationally, in Michigan and in Oakland county, English Learners represent the fastest growing subgroup of K-12 students. We've seen a steady historical increase of enrollment of English Learners in Oakland county over the last 10 years, from just over 10,000 in 2009, to nearly 14,000 in 2019. Now in 2020, we saw the first real dip in enrollment for English Learners in the county. We suspect the dip is a result of overall decreased enrollment of all students during the pandemic. So presently in Oakland county, we have approximately 176,000 students. And of that total, nearly 13,000 are identified as English Learners . The percentage of English Learners in Oakland county school districts ranges from one, to nearly 25%. That means that in some of our districts, one in four students is identified as an English Learner. Across the county, students speak 119 different languages. The top languages spoken includes Spanish, which is spoken by over 3,500 students. Approximately 1500 students report speaking Arabic, 750 speaking Japanese, and 650 students speaking, sorry, Telugu, a language of India. Our English Learners bring a wide range of skills and assets to the classroom. They and their families add a rich cultural and linguistic diversity in our Oakland county communities. I'm excited for you learn about the amazing work happening in two of our local school districts, who exemplify the highest standards of supporting and engaging English Learners and their families.
- Okay, thanks for that explanation, Suzanne, especially, I mean, those were some really interesting stats there about how many students are English Learners . Christy, we've talked on other Educationally Speaking episodes about how the pandemic has brought to light some major inequalities in our education system. So what are some special considerations that have impacted our English Learners more than others?
- Well, first I wanna say hello to everybody. We are so excited to be here. And thanks again, Sarah, for inviting us here to discuss this important topic, equity for our English Learners and also their families. And as we already named and discussed, our English Learners do come with rich linguistic and cultural strengths. And it's really important to acknowledge that some of our immigrant refugee and undocumented families come with strong educational backgrounds already. While others may come to us with limited prior schooling or food insecurity, or struggles with resettling. And so to answer your question on inequities, we do see evidence of the impact of inequity on all of these levels. And unfortunately it's not a new concept. And this includes education, as well as resources for general health and wellbeing. As you named the pandemic, really just brought them to light in an even clearer way. And some of our historically marginalized communities and families have been impacted more than others. One silver lining is that we do have a chance now to rebuild and partnership with our families, that together we can create a school community that honors and supports everyone. So today we're going to discuss a few of the inequities that districts are coming together to address as we move forward into the 21/22 school year, such as communicating with our families, equitable access and opportunities for technology in home learning, and also meeting the social emotional, cultural, and health needs, in addition to academic needs of students and families. We call this a whole child approach. We need to move beyond academics and create supportive, equitable, in-person learning environments. And this is a big task. This might require a shift in our mindsets, instead of looking at these inequities as barriers or deficits of our students and families, we can shift to an asset-based mindset, a strengths-based mindset that can allow us to recognize the strengths and assets that our families bring to us, and leverage them to address inequities. An example of this might be, instead of focusing on limited English as a language barrier, we can recognize that many of our learners are multilingual. And this is another term of acronym that I'd like to introduce. An MLL, Multilingual Learner, may come to us with multiple home languages. We can tap into those strengths, really recognizing the languages that our families can speak, sometimes two, three or four. And many have a full repertoire that are fluent in English and other languages and academic language as well. Suzanne and I invited Rob and Hadeel here today, so we could celebrate all that their districts have accomplished on behalf of English Learners . And we also really wanna give a shout out to all of the districts who've worked really hard to build equitable practices and policies.
- All right, thanks, Christy. I really liked that asset-based approach, it just seems to be such a more positive way of approaching things. Rob, welcome to the show. This is the part where our local districts kind of chime in and talk about what you guys are doing at the district level. Can you sort of discuss how Novi has stepped up to some of the challenges Christy has described?
- Yes, absolutely. And thank you for having me on the show. It is a privilege of mine to be teaching in the Novi Community School District. We have a little over 2000 language Learners in our district, and we have 44 languages spoken throughout the homes in our community. So as Christy mentioned, inequities are not a new phenomenon. What are important, are the ways in which we address them. For example, we mentioned communication between school and home. We understand that our English learner and multi-lingual families are often looking for the right balance between being there to support their kids who are learning virtually, and their careers. Just as so many of us have done, and we continue to do. So in Novi, we've had a parent engagement group, which is a small team of teachers and administrators that meet with our English learning and bilingual families to discuss things like social emotional health, community resources, and strategies to support children. We typically meet in the evenings, and these meetings have really taken off. It has been mutually beneficial to everybody involved. And we also talked about the inequity of access. To address that, the Novi Community School District not only provided a device, either a tablet or a laptop to every student, but we also loaned out furniture, like desks and chairs, to any family that requested it. And it's really helped to level the field, and it gave students a consistent quality home learning environment.
- All right, thanks, Rob. Really great stuff there from Novi. Hadeel, can you talk about West Bloomfield's EL population, and some things your district has put in place to help with inequities?
- Sure Sarah. I wanna say hello to everyone, and thank you for having me on the show. So first to share a little about our Western Bloomfield English Learner population. We have around 400 students actively receiving ELD, English Language Development Services, in West Bloomfield, and hundreds of Multilingual Learners in the district. Since many are now former EL's being monitored as required by the state, or maybe never qualified for ELD services, but still have more than one language spoken at home. Our English Learners represent over 60 different languages, combined with the top languages being Arabic, Chaldean, Spanish and Japanese. Spanish and Japanese are more commonly spoken by our newcomer families. We love the diversity we have in West Bloomfield, and are really proud of it. So some things we've put in a place to address your question, that we've put into place with inequities, particularly for EL families. Since the pandemic started our online parent meetings, online student tutoring, parent phone calls to relay info verbally and not only through email, and bilingual family liaison support, much like some of our surrounding districts I'm sure. We wanna ensure all of our families are accessing the necessary information regarding the pandemic and learning options, so all of our major district communications were translated, and continue to be translated to the languages of our newcomer families. Our bilingual staff call families to check in as needed, because we know that this is a preferred method of communication for some, and it allows parents to ask questions in their home language directly, and be able to receive that answer, you know, right away in most cases. Some staff utilize the talking points app to communicate in a variety of languages with families. And we've also added bilingual family liaison support as I mentioned, over the last two years. Which means that some of our English Learner paraprofessionals, our bilingual paraprofessionals, now have office hours to support families beyond the school day. Our ELD staff has Zoomed with several parents to teach them about Canvas, which is our newer learning management system, since that was a learning curve for many. And we've had to be creative with how we provide our before or afterschool EL tutoring. So we moved this online so our tutors can Zoom with students, and work around parent and student schedules. And we've built this tutoring online really for all students, not only EL's. West Bloomfield also provided one-to-one Chromebooks for each student and district hotspots during the pandemic, because we realized that having the necessary internet connection for students learning online may not be affordable by all families. And also our district mental health specialist provides ongoing resources to students, families and staff. And I can go on about all of the things we're putting into place, but I wanna mention last but not least, last year our West Bloomfield Board of Education adopted an anti-racism resolution to create more equitable and inclusive schools for all learners . And this resolution really speaks to some of these inequities, and what we as a district are committing to do to address them. And you can learn more about it on our district website, if you'd like.
- Thanks Hadeel. And we also had a couple of other guests from West Bloomfield on, a couple of podcast episodes ago, how to talk to your children about race and racism. And they also spoke about the anti-racism resolution that was recently passed in West Bloomfield. So thank you for sharing that. There's also a lot of assumptions out there when it comes to ELL students, but there's another side that belongs with each one of these assumptions, where something that may be viewed as negative, is actually a positive. Suzanne, can you pick an assumption you've heard out in the community and kind of unravel it for us?
- Sure. So I think there's this long standing assumption that families of immigrants, refugees, and other multilingual students, are just not engaged in the school system. There's an assumption that their perceived lack of involvement might be because they don't care about the education of their children. But we know that all families care about the education of their children. Multilingual families play a key role in their children's language development, and they possess the wealth of knowledge about their children's language use in home, and community environments. At Oakland Schools, we recognize families as experts in their children's language and learning and development. Engaging with families to learn from them about their children's language use and development is at the core of the language focus family engagement that we encourage all of our districts to use. And I know that Hadeel and Rob will share with you some things that they're doing to engage their families. And at Oakland Schools, we work closely with our districts to help them plan family engagement programs, expand their outreach to multi-lingual families, and think creatively about meeting the needs of their multi-lingual communities.
- Thank you, Suzanne. Hadeel or Rob, do either of you have examples of how this assumption has been addressed by your school district?
- Sure. I just wanna say that being someone who comes from a multilingual family, who immigrated to the US when I was five years old, I can attest that this assumption of immigrant-parent lack of involvement is not true at all. EL or bilingual parents are always eager to know about their child's progress, and want be involved in their education as much as possible. The issue is that the language barrier really puts a limit on how much they are able to voice their concerns, or engage in parent events. For newer immigrants, not knowing enough about the school system itself can place a barrier. And also many are working long hours. So being mindful of the time that events are planned, and offering choice is always a good thing. So again, this goes back to making things equitable, not only for the students in the classrooms, but also the families who wanna be involved, but need to be provided with the support to access these parent groups, meetings, or whatever it might be that the school has to offer. So having translators available is certainly wonderful and needed, but also reaching out to the families to make sure they know that their presence is important to the school. And maybe serving them on topics of interest things that are relevant to their culture or community would really help make them feel a sense of belonging. And we've had parent meetings where we do encourage families to continue using their native languages at home, since that is an asset. And I know Rob has some additional examples, and more to share on this.
- Oh, thank you, Hadeel. And Sarah, I cannot talk enough about the engagement of our families. Without their support, I quite literally would not be able to do my job effectively. And I wanna clarify that when I say support, I'm not just talking about parents and caregivers supporting their children, but our families have been incredibly supportive to me and my colleagues. They check in to see how we're doing during the pandemic. They give grace. And in some cases, they even bring treats up to the school. Just as a pick-me-up. And it's really on the teachers and the administration, and the school system as a whole to ensure that we're giving parents a platform to participate in their child's education in a culturally responsive way. So things like body language, eye contact, asking and answering questions, these can all have cultural significance. And by leading with curiosity, we're able to ensure that we're giving parents a seat at the table where they can advocate for their children. Parents communicate with us on a regular basis. They want know how to help. They want use their voices, and they wanna be physically present in our buildings, even during a time when they can't be due to the current health restrictions.
- Okay, thank you, Rob. Christy, there's a couple of other assumptions out there. Can you name them, and talk about the flip side of those ideas?
- Yes, absolutely. But something I really wanna bring attention to is from Novi and West Bloomfield's examples, that Rob and Hadeel were sharing. I think it's really clear from this that equity really needs to be intentional and purposeful. It's just not something that happens on accident, right? It takes great planning and conversations, and really starts with that asset-based mindset, so that we're able to see the flip side as we creatively plan for equity. So as Rob used that phrase, being curious and looking at all of the pieces to look at how we can put them together in an equitable way, an example might be the term learning loss. And so let's challenge that term just a little bit. We've heard that term a lot in the media and in a lot of conversations about, and though as we're looking forward to welcoming students back, and in the 21/22 school year. Along with this, there's an assumption that the reason for this learning loss is that English Learners and other student groups, such as economically disadvantaged, maybe completely disconnected from learning. And it says that there's a regression of skills. And I don't know about you, but I know for me, I learned a lot during the pandemic. And in some ways I'm definitely returning with skills that I didn't have before. So that term learning loss, it just doesn't quite capture what we've gained. One reality is that when the pandemic started, many of our families homes weren't set up for optimal learning. And some of our students weren't able to connect with teachers. However, we talked about that flip side, what started as a lack of access for many of our families, allowed our districts to recognize and equip those families with tools they needed all along for digital, flexible, and authentic learning. They probably needed them before the pandemic, but we were able to provide that for them. Another assumption is that English Learners are more behind than other students returning to school this fall. So teachers might look at their WIDA scores, which is their English language proficiency assessment, or other math and reading assessment data, and see some signs of regression. But however, that data does not tell the full story that flip side is that, though there may be some missed learning, some of that data actually shows surprising academic gains, and there are some bright spots. And the flip side for that also, is that we can build on those strengths such as multilingualism. And again, as Rob said, being curious about that, and really thinking through how can we recognize it, how can we tap into it? How can we help them build an even richer academic language in all of their languages? And I wanna leave this part with one quote from that article that you named earlier in the session. I love this quote. It shows how we can be supportive and curious as English Learners come back. What English Learners need is the scaffolding and the support to get them back where they once were, and to continue progressing. And this is another area where our EL educators have invested much energy, so much time and passion partnering with classroom teachers to make sure that we are looking for ways to support and build on what students are coming back to us with.
- All right, thank you, Christy. And again, Rob and Hadeel, can you provide some examples of the assumptions that Christy just went over, and how your districts have responded to those assumptions?
- Sure. And Christy, thank you so much for that insight. And I would add, again, there is not a strong correlation between lack of access and English language proficiency. We know that there are rural students who have struggled with access. We know that there are social economic factors that touch families of many backgrounds. And I have seen, just as Christy was saying, I've seen many of my students thrive within a virtual learning environment. And as a district, we strive to recognize and capitalize on those strengths. We have provided the technology to every student, virtual, as well as in person. And we hold each other accountable. And also, it's somewhat frustrating that there's so much emphasis on that term learning loss. Because before we can even begin to talk about learning loss, we need to recognize our student's brain and body states. We know that some students will be dysregulated as they transition back. We know that many adults will also struggle. So in everything that we do in Novi, we focus on supporting each other. In my school we've recently implemented regulation stations where students can engage in movement and in breathing. We have sensory rooms. We teach mindfulness, explicitly. And we have reset spaces, because sometimes as we start to build stamina back up for our students, sometimes they just need a minute to relax, to calm down, and to reset their brains if you will, and focus on learning. So really our emphasis is on co-regulation, and not co-escalation.
- All right. Great. Thanks Rob. And Hadeel?
- Yeah. So I'd like to share a little about how our West Bloomfield ELD team started this year off when that was winning by engaging in a discussion around equity for Multilingual Learners, and what this means for us as EL educators. So something Suzanne and Christy mentioned earlier, happened to also be a big takeaway from an article our team read from ed leadership, which highlights using an asset-based approach to educating English Learners. And really that should be the case for all students. We began intentionally planning ways to do this through our EL PLC's, professional learning communities. And to start, one example is to use student portraits that ELD teachers or even students themselves, can create and share with classroom or content teachers. This is sort of like looking a little more in depth at a student profile. We often discuss things like data and academic performance at articulation or transition meetings between teachers, but teachers rarely get to learn or hear about some of the most important things about students, before they see them in the classroom. Maybe it's what an amazing soccer player he or she is, or how awesome she or he is at playing the violin, or maybe that they know how to practically a family business over the summer or on weekends, or that they're fluent in foreign languages. So these are all assets that our multilingual Learners bring to the classroom and school community. And the first step to an asset-based approach, is to get to know more about our students beyond their assessment data or grades. Suzanne also mentioned the phrase asset-based support earlier. And to me that not only applies to students, but also to the staff. We acknowledge the strengths that our staff brings to the table, and are making efforts to increase our ELD teacher and classroom teacher collaboration through collaborative teaching or structured collaborative planning. So we see ELD teachers, our ELL or language specialists and classroom teachers are content specialists. So when the two team up and work together, the teaching and learning becomes more meaningful and accessible to all students, and this is something we strive for in any ELD program.
- All right, thanks Hadeel. Another key piece to all of this, is the social emotional aspect. An assumption, especially for EL's, is that the past 17 months of the pandemic have been traumatic, and have created collective trauma and mental health issues. But Rob, what is the truth about that assumption?
- Trauma is relative, and not everyone responds in the same way to the same event. The characteristic of trauma is a deficit in universal needs. And when we see students behaving in an unfavorable way, those behaviors are a function of those unmet needs. And again, that's why it's so important that we lead with curiosity. Last spring, when the pandemic was starting, experts in the field began to predict that this would be a global traumatic event. On each continent, we experienced a chronic lack of predictability, isolation, and social and emotional restraint. Those are three things that the brain does not process well. But the degree to which this was felt, differs greatly. Trauma is stored in the body. And while some felt intense fear, pain and confusion, all of which can have lasting effects, others who experienced the same event, seemed to be perfectly okay. And perhaps they didn't internalize those feelings in quite the same way. One of the reasons that this is the case, is because we all have different resiliency factors, such as personality connections, and the consistency of feeling safe and loved within a family. Resiliency is like a rubber band, and it's the body's way of bouncing back or snapping back after an adverse situation. The language of trauma is really through feelings and sensations. And again, in Novi, we're very intentional about providing the spaces and opportunities for our students. But even more importantly, our teachers are authentic and committed to sharing space with our children. - Thanks Rob, really interesting, especially for me personally, that definition of resiliency and how that kind of all comes together in the schools. Hadeel, do you have anything to add to this?
- Sarah just want to mention and say that we're proud of our students for meeting the challenges of remote or hybrid schooling last year, and continue to do really well. And also wanna point out that many actually did well, despite the challenges they had to face. Those who might've maybe have anxiety in the classroom or being around others have been able, or were able to learn more freely and focus on school in a different way during that remote learning period. We've had some high school students share this feedback with their ELD teacher. And for many of this type of learning actually worked. And even with the unpredictable school year we had, we were still able to exit many English Learners who met the English proficiency mark on the way to access last spring. So we're really happy about that. And obviously, some faced challenges along the way, but again, we're proud of them for so many reasons.
- All right, great. A couple of you mentioned that you had some resources for our audience, regarding this topic as well. Christy, would you like to start us off?
- Sure. So Hadeel and Rob shared so many impactful ways that our districts have supported the multi-faceted needs of our families. And we talked about that phrase, the whole child, and really looking at all of the different ways that we can support them. But I wanna take just a moment to bring our attention to another essential level of support that all of our families really need, and something that we can tap into as educators, and that would be community. And so the pandemic, again, really made it clear that we need to meet all of those needs, social, emotional, academic, intellectual, as well as the general wellbeing of our students and families. We also really need to harness that power of connecting our families with the community, and looking at those essential resources that their community organizations have available for food insecurity, clothing, financial support, and health needs of our families. And so I have a vast collection to share with you of community resources that several Oakland Schools consultants put together, including specific resources for multi-lingual immigrant, and refugee families, along with translated materials and forms from Wisam Brikho, our Refugee Immigrant Consultant here at Oakland schools.
- All right, great. And Suzanne, did you have something to add?
- Yes, thank you, Sarah. I just wanted add two additional resources. One is an excellent resource for both educators and community members. It's been collaboratively developed by the US office of English language acquisition, the department of education, the office for civil rights, and the department of justice. It's called the English language learner toolkit, and it outlines state and local school district legal obligations for English Learners and their families. It summarizes 10 common civil rights obligations to English Learners and their families, and offers tools and resources to help schools and districts meet those obligations. Of course, links to that, and the resources that Christy named are available in the show notes. And then lastly, Christy and I, in collaboration with our Oakland Schools and district partners, provide regular professional learning opportunities for all educators to grow in their understanding of English Learners and their families. So there is a document in the show notes called 21/22 Oakland Schools Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators of English Learners . And we'd encourage you to check that out if you're an educator.
- Yes, and I see that you and Christy have provided me with the links, which makes my job for the show notes so much easier, so I appreciate that. And I think Rob, you said that you had something else as well, to add to our resources section?
- I would add that Oakland County has a really wonderful youth assistance program, and a simple search for Novi Youth Assistance, for example, will direct you to the webpage and all of the resources that it offers. And then I would also say again, because connections and relationships are foundational, to look for those meaningful connections through city programs such as tennis, or swimming, art, martial arts, whatever the child's interests might be.
- That's a great idea, Rob, to kind of remember that there are community resources available out there as well, and to look out for those to help. Suzanne and Christy, thank you for all the great work you do here at Oakland Schools, connecting our districts with the resources they need to support ELs. And Rob and Hadeel, your work at the district level is nothing short of amazing, and inspiring to all of us. We're truly making a difference in so many lives. So thank you for that. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools, Intermediate School District's Communication Services. And is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency in Oakland County, Michigan, that offers support services to school personnel, which are better delivered regionally, and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking at our Oakland Schools' website, at oakland.k12.mi.us. And Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student, every day.
Nationwide and locally, careers in STEM, - which stands for science, technology, engineering and math - are making headlines as growing and lucrative fields for the future.
Oakland Schools has been working hard over the past several months to really begin focusing on supporting the STEM efforts of local school districts.
In this episode, we talk to the team who has created these programs to find out what exciting learning opportunities are on the horizon, as well as talk to a local elementary school principal and a student who are eager to participate in these opportunities.
Phil Kimmel, Kyle Kilpatrick and Lauren Marchelletta, All STEM Consultants for Oakland Schools
Jeff Brown, Principal, Oxford Elementary School in Oxford Community Schools
Cody Musial, freshman student at Oxford High School
Oakland Schools Career Readiness
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
- [Sarah] What is 1,000 square feet and offers up to 40 students simultaneous access to interactive, high-tech, state-of-the-art industry equipment? You're about to find out on this episode of Educationally Speaking. Welcome to Educationally Speaking, a podcast which focuses on important topics related to education, that affects students, parents, teachers, and administrators. My name is Sarah Davis, the Communications Specialist for Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. Nationwide and locally, careers in STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math are making headlines as growing and lucrative fields for the future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2019 and 2029, STEM jobs are expected to grow by 8% compared to 3.7% for other occupations. The Michigan STEM Partnership states that in Michigan, 30% of all jobs in the Metro Detroit area are in research and development or STEM-intensive industries. And 44.2% of all Southeast job postings require some sort of STEM skill. Not only is the Michigan filled ripe with opportunity for those interested in STEM occupations, but those in STEM careers make more on average than other Michigan workers. In 2013, the average wage among all occupations in Michigan was approximately $21 an hour, compared to $34 an hour for STEM jobs. One of Oakland Schools' number one missions is to provide all students in Oakland County with amazing career readiness opportunities. So with all that said, Oakland Schools has been working hard over the past several months to really begin focusing on supporting the STEM efforts of local school districts. Today we're gonna talk to the team who has created these programs and find out what exciting learning opportunities are on the horizon, as well as talk to a local elementary school principal and a student who are eager to participate in these opportunities. Please welcome Phil Kimmel, Kyle Kilpatrick, and Lauren Marchelletta, all STEM consultants for Oakland Schools. Jeff Brown, Principal of Oxford Elementary School and Oxford Community Schools, and Cody Musial, a freshmen students in Oxford this year. Let's begin by talking about STEM in Oakland County and why Oakland Schools decided we needed to provide more support to local districts in this realm. Phil, first, thank you for being on the show. Can you start us off by talking a little bit about the history here?
- [Phil] Yeah, thank you very much for having me on the show. Just wanted to start off by saying yes, you mentioned that the three of us are STEM consultants at Oakland Schools and we work within the Career Readiness department. So really focusing on how do we make sure that we are thinking about all those careers that you mentioned early on, Sarah, and focusing on how we make students career-ready? So the first thing I'd like to say is we believe strongly that STEM is career readiness, so if you look at what's STEM principles are, and following processes, and making students think about problem solving, and really getting down to that rigorous mindset of perseverance and getting through problems, I think those are all skills and strategies that students need to go out into the world and be effective members of society. So I think that is part of being career readiness, of being career-ready, sorry. And then when you kind of talked about the history, we came on board as STEM consultants almost three years ago, not quite, but just over two and a half years ago. And we recognize that the big thing within Oakland County is that all students need STEM, right? It might not be a student that's going to go into a STEM career, but it's all students, even those who are going to go out and become a writers, or maybe they're going to work in another industry or field, they can still utilize those skills. And so I think the three of us is STEM consultants and then OS, Oakland Schools as a whole, really think that STEM is something that Oakland County needs, and we are really trying to help facilitate that. So we're doing that in a couple of different ways, obviously we're going to talk about them today, but we really want to make sure that we are putting boots on the ground, it might in a teacher's classrooms, or it might be working with curriculum directors at a school district to find out what pathways they want to implement at their school. So we're really trying to meet teachers, educators, administrators and districts, wherever they're at, and really trying to set up a focus on STEM education as a whole throughout their district. So I think that kind of covers where the history is and where we're going.
- [Sarah] Yup, thanks for that explanation, Phil. So the STEM experience that Oakland Schools is offering to our local districts is basically three-pronged, and although each part of this experience is important, I think it's fair to say that one of the more eye catching aspects of it is our STEMi. Kyle, thank you for coming on the podcast today, can you explain what exactly the STEMi is?
- [Kyle] Thanks, Sarah, for having me, excited to share all of the work we have going on in Oakland County related to STEM and with everyone listening. So the STEMi is truly a STEM semi, hence the name STEMi. For scope, it is the largest trailer you see on the road, it's 53 feet in length that doesn't require like a leading and following truck, so it is very large. When it expands both sides expand out to a thousand square feet approximately of usable instructional space. And so that allows us to have somewhere between approximately 30 learners on there at a time to explore and interact with the stations that are on the STEM mobile lab. We have a space in there for about eight interactions, and I know we'll get into some more details on those, but as we were designing and developing this, we were really intentional about making it a space that's adjustable and can grow and continue to meet the needs of the county over the next five years, because it is a five-year-long program. It's just completed, it's build in May, it was a six to nine-month build process, it's actually built from scratch. so from it doesn't exist a fully custom build for this project because of all the technology inside of it. To be driven, it's quite a process, right? So Phil and I have mentioned this before, that it's the most difficult engineering process him and I have been a part of, 'cause there's a lot going on from the sides need to expand and collapse, you need to pack things so it can be stored. So it is pulled by a tractor, but there's a several-hour take down and set up times, so there's a lot of moving parts that go into making this a functional thing that we can bring to all 28 districts in Oakland County. And so we are excited that we have this great space as a platform, and as you mentioned earlier, it's definitely catchy and it is truly starting to spark conversations about STEM across the county.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, I can't wait till we are able to display it to everyone in the county. So Lauren is here, she is the third team member of our STEM team here at Oakland Schools, thanks for being on the show. What are some examples of what students may expect to encounter when in the STEMi?
- [Lauren] Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Sarah. So kind of a high level overview, we ultimately have four different experiences based on different industries throughout the STEMi. And to kind of go over those, we have a mixed reality experience, we have a self-driving car experience, collaborative robots and a smart manufacturing experience. And each of these experiences include industry level tools and experiences that we really hope will spark engagement with our students. And this is what we have currently right now, but we do plan to update these experiences and what's available based on current industry trends and district needs. So at each of these experiences, they have some really cool technologies and tools, but ultimately kind of like Kyle mentioned, we want to spark a conversation with our students and we want them to be able to see themselves as successful in these industries. We want them to be able to understand that in order to work, maybe on self-driving cars, they don't just have to be an engineer, and there are so many other ways that they can be involved in at these industries. And on top of that, we want this STEM engagement and spark to last long before the STEMi comes to town and long after the STEMi comes.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, thanks for that, Lauren. And Jeff, you are here to sort of offer the district point of view on the STEMi. You said you had the opportunity to see the STEMi, what are some of your thoughts on it?
- [Jeff] Hi, Sarah, thank you for the opportunity to talk about some of the fun and engaging learning that's happening in Oxford and with the STEMi. I wanted to take a quick second and think Phil, Kyle and Lauren, they've been really easy to work with and it's been fantastic. And I wanted to give Cody just a quick plug because I had texted his principal a couple of weeks ago and just asked for a name of a student who would do a good job. And she texted me back within 10 seconds with Cody's name and said that he would be the perfect kid to do that. So I just wanted to make sure I thanked all of the appropriate people. I had the opportunity in May to visit the STEMi, I don't think I had an accurate picture in my head of what I was gonna be walking into. Two seconds into opening the door, my first impression was just, wow, I saw engaged students at several stations spread throughout the STEMi, you could see the smiles on their faces even through the mask that people were wearing. The intent of the initial visit was just to amaze kids, and I think the STEMi truly lived up in deliver that. In Oxford, our plan is to have fifth and eighth graders visit the STEMi this year, one of the main purposes is to get the kids in those transition years excited about moving on to the next level, and some of the new opportunities that are gonna be there. And I think one of our other goals is to get teachers thinking just about the world that our students are headed into, and to think about how their teaching is gonna be impacted by that moving forward.
- [Sarah] All right, thanks, Jeff. And Cody is next, Cody, thanks for being on the show. You told me you were given the opportunity to go on the STEMi when it visited Oxford Middle School last year, can you talk about what your thoughts were when you first stepped onto the STEMi and what's some of your favorite items were?
- [Cody] My initial thoughts when I first got onto the STEMi was it was a lot bigger than I was expecting. 'Cause there was a construction STEMi in the parking lot a couple of days earlier, and Ms. Beasley and I were both thinking that that was the STEMi, so when we got on there, we were shocked by how huge it was. It was really modern inside, which also surprised me, and it was really quite cool. My favorite part was the light guide manufacturing system, I thought that was really cool how a computer could recognize different blocks and tell you where to place them. So it was less strain on the person that would probably have to do that repetitively. So I thought that was really innovative. I also quite enjoyed the HoloLens, that's really cool, I've heard a lot about them, never got to use one till then. And the autonomous car part was cool too.
- [Sarah] Very cool. That's great, we like to hear, you know, that's the point of the STEMi is that our students can experience these different kinds of things and really enjoy them. Do you have any special interest in STEM?
- [Cody] Yes, I wanna be an aerospace engineer when I'm older, so I always wanted to work with something involving combustion in engineering, and at first I wanted, my dad's an automotive engineer, I wanted to work on that, but cars are going electric and I don't really take interest in electric cars. So then I wanted to work on planes and now planes are starting to go electric, so I don't really wanna work on planes. And I've always taken an interest in rockets, I've been going to space camp since I was like eight or something, always been super fascinated with rockets. So that's what I wanna go into.
- [Sarah] Sounds like a great career choice, I'm sure you're gonna do really, really well at that. And I'm glad that the STEMi was a positive experience for you too. Now some of you may have already heard of the STEMi because we'd been promoting it like crazy. But as I mentioned earlier, the STEMi is just one part of a three-pronged approach Oakland Schools has to supporting local districts with STEMi initiatives. And just is important of a piece to that pie, is their STEM Co Checkout system? Lauren, can you talk about the checkout system?
- [Lauren] Yeah, absolutely. So the STEM Co Checkout system has a series of different options for teachers to choose from, teachers from across Oakland County. They are kind of separated into similar sections that the STEMi experiences are. And I would say that was a pretty intentional choice because like we had mentioned before, when the STEMi leaves or before the STEMi comes, we really want students and teachers to still be able to take advantage of that engagement with STEM and the spark with STEM. So we have robot K5 opportunities for students and teachers to check out, we have robot 6-12, we have electronic building blocks, interactive media and advanced manufacturing. And within each of those categories are different tools and technologies that our teachers can check out. And when they're interested in checking them out, currently they can email myself, Phil and Kyle. And typically we see that teachers check them out from between two to three weeks, if they need them for longer, that's certainly something we can discuss as well. And we don't necessarily want to just hand tools over to teachers and say, "Here you figure it out." So part of the deal with the STEM Co is determining what level of support our teachers need. If they're very comfortable with it, absolutely, take it and run with it, but if they are needing some support and trying to figure out where it might fit into some things that they're already doing, they're just kind of wanting to get their feet wet, we can provide all of those levels of support as well.
- [Sarah] What a great program. And Phil, why did Oakland Schools feel that the STEM Checkout was necessary?
- [Phil] Yeah, that's a great question there, Sarah. I think like Lauren mentioned, the STEMi is great, but it's also what we do before students come on the STEMi and what we do after students come on the STEMi. We really are focusing on you know, promoting career readiness and if they have that hour long or so experience on the STEMi, it's great, but we need to do something else to help maximize that impact, right? And so what we're really trying to do with the STEM Checkout is provide that opportunity and also break down some barriers. I think that the fact that all districts have access to the STEM equipment makes it nice that we can kind of share the load a little bit, both financially and also from a just a support point of view. So I know from classroom experience there that a lot of times I would use some type of STEM technology and I might use it for a unit or, you know, a couple of weeks here and there, and then it would go back on the shelf, and I might not touch it again until the next year, right? So not a very cost effective model. In this we're loaning out and we're meeting districts during their usage times and when they would hope to utilize it, maybe it's for a unit and then they can get it back and have it basically utilized throughout the entire year. The other thing we're trying to do, like I said, is break down some barriers. We know that the limitations to STEM education often come in the form of resources, so we're providing those. Also comes in the, a barrier would be the support or I guess, tools or resources, there we go, the resources that would be needed to help support that. So we're trying to come up with lesson plans and really connect educators together to make sure that they are collaborating and really getting the most out of that. And then I think another big factor would be also technology and devices. So any of the STEM equipment that we check out or loan to people also come with a device, whether that be a lap or an iPad, whatever that might be, so that way we can really, really work with the district and give them the full opportunity to experience that even if they might not have the device or the app or the software, we can help provide that. So I think the biggest part there is making sure that we are providing an all encompassing experience that really moves the needle beyond the STEMi and really, like I said, maximizes that STEM impact across their districts.
- [Sarah] All right, and Jeff, you took out items from the STEM Checkout, correct?
- [Jeff] We have, a couple of years ago, Phil and Kyle came to a half day PD in Oxford and shared the inventory, they brought samples and they really engaged teachers. I think teachers were just truly amazed and excited what all the offerings were. To build off of that excitement, we develop a plan to introduce it to our students. Luckily my building had an empty classroom, we outfitted the room with wall to wall colored glass, whiteboards, for seating, we ordered stools and light plastic tables that we could easily move out of the way just to really create a fun and flexible group and STEM type room. It was really important for us right from the beginning that kids would see STEM as fun, right from the start. As we move forward with COVID of course that room didn't get to be used very much last year, but we were still committed and followed through and had lots of materials from the STEM Co come to the building. Kids used both CoSpaces and Bloxels, which are both drag and drop type programs where kids are building virtual worlds. We took on the laser wood cutter for one of the rotations that we tried last year, so the kids got to experience the software where they had to create their design, and then they all had the opportunity to actually watch it be cut right there on the wood in front of them, which was incredibly fun. We also took on an extra piece of trying to line up a career speaker to go with each of those experiences. So the goal was for kids to be able to see the practical application of the tools that they were learning to use. We were lucky enough to have one of the people who actually worked for Bloxels come and talk about his job through Zoom. We also talked to a gentleman who used augmented reality as part of his job. And so it was fun for kids to see the practical use of the technology and how it would be used in their professional career. Our fourth grade teachers checked out the little bits to use with their electricity unit. We've been doing electricity units for quite a long time, but the technology that we checked out through open schools worked better, it was easier for the kids to use, it really did add to their experience with learning about electricity. Phil and Kyle were amazing and met with selected groups of kids through Zoom and gave them additional opportunity to further explore Cospaces and Bloxels to be kind of our local experts. I'm really lucky in this building to have a computer technician that used to code in her previous life, and a media paraprofessional that loves technology and is very involved with Oxford Robotics, both of them helped me deliver the lessons in the classroom. For this year, I'm really excited to bring some new items in, including green screens and drones, because who doesn't wanna see drones flying around our building and may at the end of the year, when everybody's getting a little bit squirrely. And our goal still for this year is really fun. And our long-term goal is for teachers to be able to see these materials and figure out how they're gonna put them and make them a long-term part of their curriculum. But this year is we're still launching it, we just wanna have fun for the teachers and for the kids.
- [Sarah] Yeah, I mean, it sounds like Oxford has a really well-developed STEM plan there to really bring STEM to the students and teachers. So good job over there. What was the student feedback when you brought these different interactions into the school?
- [Jeff] I think the students really had had a blast from day one. And I think I can sum it up in just a few experiences. Because of COVID, I think we sort of monopolize the licenses for CoSpaces and Bloxels this year through Oakland Schools. And so it was interesting as the year went on and I kept walking into classes, I would notice if kids had any free time that they were still using both of those software platforms, kids were just super excited to share anytime they started coming in. My favorite story was, in one of the classes that we went into, there was a student that I said, hey, we're gonna learn to make video games today, this is gonna be really fun. And the look on her face just didn't look like it was gonna be fun. And the moment, the sort of maybe the most proud of that, how this went for this year was at the end of the year, she called me over one day when I was walking in her classroom and wanted to share the world that she'd made. And she really gotten into the art and creation aspect of what her world looked like. And so for a kid who I don't think was jumping up and down at STEM, she was excited as anybody of what it was gonna look like. And, you know, as we're moving into this year, our fifth graders do an exhibition project at the end of their fifth grade experience. And one of our dreams would be to see the kids integrating some of these STEM technologies into those presentations. I think it would really make them just robust and fun and exciting. And so some of the things like using the green screens would be spectacular, getting a kid to design their presentation around the CoSpaces world, I think would be amazing. And kids just gravitate to it, they smile, they take it home, they experiment, they use the licenses at night because they had 24/7 access to them. Kids just jumped right in.
- [Sarah] And that's the whole goal of this STEM experience for Oakland Schools is to provide those opportunities, to provide that career readiness. So it's great to hear from a district like Oxford that it worked as it's supposed to. A final piece of the STEM experience puzzle is our involvement with the Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association, otherwise known as OCCRA. Phil, can you discuss how the STEM experience connects with OCCRA?
- [Phil] Yeah, for sure. And just before I get into that, I do want to just echo my thoughts that Jeff said about a great working relationship, I think that is a big part of building a successful STEM community, right? So as we look at building that ecosystem, having educators who are willing to take some things on and really, you know, not challenge the educators to say you have to implement this, but really that when Jeff mentioned playing, I think that is the key to a successful rollout of a STEM curriculum, right? Seeing that there's some value in just let's play with this stuff, let's see where it takes us, maybe you're going to work with the student that really wants to be the next engineer, maybe you're going to work with a student that wants to be involved in aerospace like Cody, right? But maybe you're interested with the student that really wants to take a piece of technology and use it in some other way that we've never seen before, right? So maybe they wanna take that video game design that Jeff was mentioning and start looking at how I can do more art with it, and maybe how I could do virtual art, where we're getting into a headset and people can look at it virtually, right? So finding that next entrepreneur is just as important to finding that next engineer. So yeah, your question was more about OCCRA, but I had to make sure that we highlight the success stories as well. OCCRA is definitely an awesome opportunity for students. It stands for Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association, like we mentioned, and what we can do there is in the fall every year high school students get an opportunity to build and compete with a robot that they design. And I like about this one is that OCCRA has to be completely 100% student-designed and built. They can meet and interact with some mentors that can provide some advice up to an hour per week, but beyond that it is the student's designer and build process that shines through. And you really get to see some creative solutions. The students get to compete over basically a five competition season, and we keep scores throughout the entire year. And I also liked that there's components to it for other awards, other than just performance on the field, there are coding awards, there are awards for creativity, there's an aesthetic presentation. And then there's also awards for, you know, things that you may be do as a team outside of the OCCRA or robotics playing field. So what have you done within your community? How have you spread robotics to more students within your district than are just on the team themselves? So I think OCCRA really is a outlet for students and also it's a way for them to be involved in some open-ended problem solving, I think that's key as well. So a really great opportunity for students to participate in.
- [Sarah] Wonderful, so that is the Oakland Schools STEM experience in a nutshell. Kyle, where can those interested in participating in any part of this get more information?
- [Kyle] Sure, so as Phil mentioned earlier, the STEM consultants, Phil, Lauren, and I all sit under the Career Readiness team at Oakland Schools, so you can definitely start there at the website and view not just STEM offerings and support, but additionally, the connected career readiness opportunities we have for learners in Oakland County. I also think it's really important to say that we are available through email to contact any of us for support. You know, as an example, the great things that Jeff has done in Oxford started with a conversation with us, right, just by reaching out. And we enjoy that and we think that that's really the important part of our work. The STEMi is amazing, it's a great spark to start those conversations, STEM Co ultimately to follow up and support that. But really our work is to support our 28 districts with unique challenges in a way that meets their needs in a meaningful way. And so certainly start with the website, but ultimately we are available by email to have and begin those conversations to support in all things STEM and career readiness.
- [Sarah] All right, great. And all of that information will be in our show notes for our listeners to connect with the STEM experience if they so desire. Thank you again to all of you for being on the show, Phil, Kyle and Lauren, I hope that the STEM experience continues to be successful. Jeff, we appreciate Oxford's support of our program and good luck to you this school year. Same to you, Cody, and best of luck in your future studies, I think we can all tell you have a bright future ahead. Jeff and Cody keep us updated on how the STEM learning is going there in Oxford, maybe we can do a follow-up podcast to all of this. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts Communication Services, and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency in Oakland County, Michigan, that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size and quality advantages to those we serve. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on our Oakland Schools website at oakland.k12.mi.us and Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode, where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
For our first episode of Season 3, we will be talking about what parents and students can expect for the 2021-2022 school year. Admittedly, this is a moving target because the pandemic is ongoing and things could quickly change, but, as of right now, it is looking like school districts are going to resume in-person learning.
So what will that look like? With guidance from local education experts, we will be discuss some of the key areas that parents and students may be examining upon returning to school this year.
Lori Adkins, Child Nutrition Consultant for Oakland Schools
Dayna Bennett, Public Health Nurse Consultant for Oakland Schools
Lisa Hansknecht, Director of Government Relations and Community Services for Oakland Schools
Dr. Julie McDaniel, Safety and Well-Being Consultant for Oakland Schools
Dr. Amy Kruppe, Superintendent of Hazel Park Schools
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
- [Sarah] What can we expect for the upcoming 2021/2022 school year? Flexibility is going to be key that's for sure but there are some things we can still take a look at, join us as we explore health, budget and nutrition topics in this episode of Educationally Speaking.
- Welcome to Educationally Speaking, a podcast which focuses on important topics related to education that affects students, parents, teachers and administrators. My name is Sarah Davis, the Communication Specialist for Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. For our first episode of season three, we'll be talking about what parents and students can expect for the 2021/2022 school year. Admittedly, this is a moving target because the pandemic is ongoing and things could quickly change. But as of right now, it is looking like school districts are going to resume in-person learning. So what will that look like? With guidance from local education experts, we will be discussing some of the key areas that parents and students may be examining upon return to school this year. Our guests are Lori Adkins, Child Nutrition Consultant for Oakland Schools, Dayna Bennett, Public Health Nurse Consultant for Oakland Schools, Lisa Hansknecht, Director of Government Relations and Community Services for Oakland Schools, Dr. Julie McDaniel, Safety and Well-Being Consultant for Oakland Schools. And at the district level, Dr. Amy Kruppe, Superintendent of Hazel Park Schools. We will start with you Dayna because I think paramount in everyone's minds heading into the school year is health, both mental and physical. Dayna first, thank you for being on the show. And as everyone knows this coming school year is gonna be an evolving situation health-wise as students returned back to the classroom. What are some things parents and students may see happening in their district as school administrators prepare for returning to in-person learning?
- [Dayna] Thank you for having me. The last few weeks have shown us COVID-19 is an evolving disease. As school districts, schools, school staff, families, and students prepare for the 2021/2022 school year the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended all students return to full-time in-person learning for the year. Given the current reality of our situation that students under the age of 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated, it's important to continue the layering approach to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and be as flexible as we can with these changing situations.
- [Sarah] Okay, thank you for that Dayna. Amy, thank you for being a guest. Can you provide some examples of the health safety strategies Hazel Park is planning to implement this coming school year.
- [Amy] Sure, thank you for having me. So this coming school year, we will be following some of the strategies that we have followed before. So we will have COVID cleaners in the classroom as we have in the past, we'll be using smaller class sizes and keeping students three feet apart making sure that they're cohorting. We have shields on the desks, keeping kids separated K-8, but in the high school area, shields on the desks will be left up to the teachers or the students. Our students will be having breakfast and lunch in the lunch room and we'll be having students enter through the front with thermo scans, making sure that our temperatures are lowered. We have a nurse that has been hired from Oakland County so they'll be working with parents and students to make sure quarantining guidelines are followed and connecting with Oakland County Health Department.
- [Sarah] All right, and another important subject is masks. There's been a lot of controversy over masks but we're not gonna get into that here in this show. And it seems like each district is handling that situation differently. Dayna, can you talk about how if required students and parents can properly wear a mask so that it is effective.
- [Dayna] Yeah, masking is an effective intervention in protecting people against respiratory viruses, masking protects others and themselves as it's possible to have COVID-19 without any symptoms. In laboratory studies, multilayered cloth masks were more effective than any type of single layered mask, blocking as much as 50 to 70% of exhaled small droplets of particles. Face masks can be safely worn by all children two years of age and older including most children with special health conditions. But please always consult your healthcare provider, children should not wear a mask if they're under two years of age because of suffocation risks. Also anyone who's unconscious or unable to remove face covering on their own should not wear one and also with swimming as well. How to properly wear a mask depends on the proper fit and if it stays on. The mask should be two or more layers of breathable fabric. When trying on a mask make sure it covers from the nose to your chin and then move your mouth around to make big facial expressions to see if the mask moves or if it creates any gaps on the side. If it does try to tighten the mask, if gaps still persist, you may need a new mask. It's helpful to pack extra masks for the school day and don't forget to wash and completely dry the mask after each use. Remind your children to wash their hands before and after putting the mask on and avoid touching it once it is on.
- [Sarah] All right, thank you for that instruction Dayna. One last thing, something that seems to have happened as a result of the pandemic is that discussions health-wise are dominated by COVID but students can still get sick with other illnesses. Since it's been a year, since many kids have not been in the classroom, what are some other important health items parents should keep in mind for return to school?
- [Dayna] Yeah, so August is National Immunization Awareness month. Over the course of the pandemic as many families have had to cancel or postpone appointments with their healthcare provider. The Michigan Chapter of American Association of Pediatrics stated that last year routine vaccination rates for children were down about 5% in Michigan. This amounts to tens of thousands of kids not protected from severe but preventable diseases. So planning for back to school should also include scheduling that appointment with your healthcare provider to get caught up with on routine annual examinations, routine vaccinations and a flu shot once they start to become available. I would also make sure that your medical forms are up to date with your school. Some students may have new medications that they're on or a change in medication from over the previous year. If a student does have a chronic health condition like diabetes, asthma or seizure disorder, make sure the rescue medications are at school per your school's policy and that those medications are not expired.
- [Sarah] Okay, wonderful, appreciate your insight. Next, I wanna touch on the social emotional aspect of returning back to school which is just as important as our physical health. Julie, welcome to the show. When you and I talked before, you said a lot of your work more recently has focused on how we can start restoring our communities from the trauma that the pandemic has caused. Obviously school is a huge part of community. Can you briefly discuss the social emotional ramifications of the pandemic?
- [Julie] Sure, Sarah, thank you so much for having me. When we talked before we talked about the individual impact of COVID-19 and just a quick reminder that our brain serves first of all as a smoke detector. Always sensing danger, the amygdala lets the system know whether we're safe or not. Once that question of if we're safe or is answered, then the limbic system which is the feelings and emotion part of our brain kicks in and asks, "Okay, I'm safe but am I loved?" When those two questions are answered with a yes then the executive functioning part of our brain is able to be engaged. That's the place where we are truly our best selves. We're thinking about others, we're reasoning, we're using words, we're problem solvers. So basically for at least the first year of the pandemic and some of us are still in an acute crisis, we live in the back part of our brain. That is truly the me part of our brain and what we wanna do because so many of us are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We wanna move from that natural instinct of taking care of ourselves to thinking about ourselves as part of a greater community. And so what we wanna do is to start to move from me to we. So because many of us feel like the crisis is behind us, we can start dealing with some of the things that have happened naturally. So in crisis it's natural for disruption to happen in trust. There's more division, there's some places in our school communities that with seemingly irreparable division. Our emotions are still high in places. Collectively, we are now actually living in communities in crisis so our own personal crisis has now been translated into our communities. It's also really important for us to individually note that even though for many of us, the crisis is over there's a reality of post-traumatic stress which does not set in until 28 days, at least 28 days after the crisis is over. Sometimes it doesn't emerge for years after. And so even if COVID is way behind us, we need to continue to be vigilant looking at ourselves and the people around us, checking in mental health-wise, we need to look at people who seem to be struggling with deep feelings of apathy or depression or detachment. So in my humble opinion, at this point, it is really our moral imperative to move from that crisis survival mode to more of a community mindset so that we're moving from me to we. Children and some adults are not able to do this but the rest of us certainly can come together in shared purpose for the sake of our children. We know that people heal, that they learn, they thrive and they grow in strong supportive communities. We also know that the relationships are the backbone of those communities. Our goal always is to repair the relationships in order to restore the strength of our communities. So how do we do this? We have to find common ground that's in the place of partisan politics, great division over things like vaccination and masks in the midst of COVID-19 and American racial injustice, pandemic, health crises, financial instability, job insecurity and the threat of variants, right in the middle of all this, we still have to find common ground.
- [Sarah] And that's a long list of things that could be, could make it difficult to come together. So with all of that in mind, what are some ways that we can begin to repair the relationships that are the backbone of strong communities? In other words, how can communities work to find common ground despite all of the things that we're feeling right now?
- [Julie] There are two ways to do this, collective ownership and shared decision making. So the first thing is just to be mindful that individuals in crisis, we go to that me part. Our leaders are also it's necessary for them to think for the organization, to think for their communities. There have been a lot of decisions that have been made by a few people, absolutely necessary in crisis. We are no longer in that acute crisis. I think COVID is going to be with us for a while and we're starting to learn how to manage within this. We need to feel like our leadership is showing shared ownership and this shared decision making. There are some places especially in our school communities that parents feel excluded from this. Some of our staff feels silenced and undermined. And while all of this was very normal and really important for us as we moved acutely through the crisis, now that we are starting to have room to breathe and to think, I feel like people really need to feel that they're a part of this thing. So I could believe that we can move from division and turmoil with an explicit and transparent effort to refocus our efforts on something that we can all bond around, which is our children. So if we start thinking about ourselves as a part of humanity, where 15,000 years ago, when we started organizing our children were seen as our future, our children are the meaning of life. I truly believe that we can find common ground by putting children back into that focus that they are the meaning of what we do. So there's a been a group of us that have been meeting in Oakland County for a year now. And we've been going into communities and buildings, districts to do what we call listening circles which are community dialogues and it allows people individually to process some of the pain that they've had. So we've had different circles on what it feels like to go fully remote, what it felt like to be hybrid or face-to-face, what it felt like after the murder of George Floyd, what COVID-19 has done to our individual lives. We've love that's hundreds of people know that we have been able to have these listening circles. What we're moving to now is what we're calling community dialogues. So in partnership with Wayne State University, we have created this event, they'll begin in the fall. We have a moderated discussion between two people who are discussing what the purpose of public education is and who gets to determine curriculum and standards. But basically answering the question, why does public school exist? And then who gets to determine what children learn. After this moderated discussion, we are going to have community members come together in small groups to talk about what the moderated discussions have been speaking on. We're gonna have them answer questions such as what does the parent role in education? What is the school's role in dealing with social issues? And we believe that if we start focusing solely on our children that we can come to that common ground, that we can find that shared ownership. And I'm hoping Sarah that as we get closer and the logistics get determined that maybe I could come back and talk more about what this will look like to see if other districts, community members are interested in having these dialogues happen in their districts.
- [Sarah] Yes, absolutely. You're always welcome to be a guest on the podcast. Thank you again for your insight. Always valued here. Amy, has there been anything Hazel Park has done to address the social emotional effects of pandemic may have had on students as they come back to school?
- [Amy] Yes, that's a hard act to follow there but our theme this year is developing inclusive communities. And I think it goes right along with a lot of those conversations as we focus on positive psychology, social emotional learning and diversity within our own school district. And I like to talk a little bit about that as we go along that we're really gonna focus on our adults and their feelings and social emotional wellbeing as they return here at the end of the month. And I think that's really important because our happy teachers and positive teachers make positive children inside the classroom because when our teachers are well and they're feeling the love, our students are feeling the love and they're learning and so that's a real focus growth as we're walking into the school year, I think that's really important. And then we are certainly focused on growing our advisory program K-12, as our students do Monday morning meetings and our junior high and high school do advisory every day to start up the morning to build those strong, positive connections between teachers and students that we know will help them engage and wanna be inside schools but also have a person every day that they can connect with to meeting inside the school environment. And then I think it's also important that last year we worked really hard on trauma informed learning inside the school so that we knew those connections as well, so that we could understand those students and the connections that they were coming back with and what they were going through. And so this year we know that students will come back again in our school environment. Some of them that have been away for 18 months and been learning virtually and coming back to school for the first time and making those strong connections inside our school environment so that will be really important again. And then we were to through all this to open a clinic through Ascension. And so we do have a lot of support through social works and also through a therapist through Ascension. And so I think we have a well-rounded plan as we think about social emotional learning, PBIS and diversity, equity and inclusion inside our school district to have a real good focus this year to make a great transition positively inside Hazel Park Schools.
- [Sarah] It sounds like it, sounds like a great plan. Now I wanna touch on the business side of things recently, the legislature decided to pass more funding for schools. Lisa, thank you for being on the show. Can you talk about what happened funding wise for schools this past year?
- [Lisa] Thanks for having me. So the Michigan Legislature passed, what many are considering a historic school aid funding package just hours before the July 1st deadline. And it includes about 17 billion when you look at the state school aid fund, the general fund and federal funds and taken as a whole with the federal dollars, every district will see significantly more than $1,000 per pupil in available state and federal funds. The funding gap that we've always heard about between the lowest and the highest districts since Proposal Aid passed back in '94 will be gone. Everybody will start with the $8,700 per pupil and go forward from that. The other big thing that's happening in the budget that I wanna note is that the budget assumes in-person learning is gonna be taking place. It assumes we're gonna be back in the classroom and not doing the online remote. And so the sections of law that allowed for greater flexibility in the attendance rules and in pupil accounting are all going back to how it was before COVID and it'll have a big impact on districts as some parents may or may not be ready to send their kids back depending on where things are going now. And we may have to adjust for that going forward, but that's what's passed so far.
- [Sarah] Okay, thanks for that summary. And even though it sounds like a lot of money, it doesn't necessarily mean that schools are able to just purchase whatever they like. What are some examples of what this funding can be used for?
- [Lisa] So the funding does have to meet certain requirements that relate to the COVID pandemic but it is fairly broad schools could spend it on increased staff so that they can have smaller class sizes allowing for that social distancing that you heard Superintendent Kruppe and I think Dayna Bennett talked about as well. It can allow for some technology needs if you still do have some that need a one-to-one laptops and computers, updated HVAC and air filtration systems or PPE like the masks and those shields to divide the desks, it could be extended learning time. It also could be about the recovery piece. In fact, the federal government said a certain percentage must be for helping kids make up for some of the learning time and the topics that they may have fallen behind on. Maybe mobile classrooms to allow for those smaller class sizes and to have more rooms so they can divide the kids into smaller groups. And it is worth noting though that districts with declining enrollment may still be facing cuts. If you would have a significant declining enrollment in your district, even with a larger per pupil money, that per pupil is based on the number of pupils. So if you have less pupils, it may end up sort of balancing each other off. And it's important for parents to remember that this isn't just, "Hey, look, there's gobs of money and we can do anything we want."
- [Sarah] Exactly, I think it's important for people to understand that last part of it too. And then Amy, always going back to you for that district example, what are some items that Hazel Park plans to use the additional funding for?
- [Amy] Well, we're really grateful, especially as one of those districts that needed that step up in that additional state aid. So we were really fortunate this summer to spend a little under a half a million dollars for summer school programming that our students really needed after some loss of learning. And these were reading programs, community based programs, programs that our students told us and our parents told us that they wanted to have happen. And so we had greater enrollment than we've ever had before in summer school in a variety of programming that our parents and students had input in what they wanted to see this summer. One program which was really exciting involved with the parents with the students about how to teach your children to read at home and they participated on a weekly basis, just super excited to be able to provide those programs to our students and our parents. We also have provided an increase of a multi-tiered system of support teachers for the upcoming school year, so that our students have additional one-on-one learning with teachers in school to help increase their learning speed so that they can get it back up to speed about where they're supposed to be in that learning cycle. We additionally intend on providing a small group tutoring after school and via Zoom in the evenings because some parents can't have their students stay after school and they need them later into the evening where it'd be easier for their parents while they're at home to allow them to tutor. So a lot of tutoring because we know the research tells us that that one-on-one or two-on-one time is more effective for students. So we're really focusing those dollars on our students in order to make sure that they're learning at the speeds that they need to learn so that they can be successful in the community.
- [Sarah] Yep, a lot of different options there. As we all know, many issues about inequities in our education system were brought to light during the pandemic. One such issue is food accessibility. Welcome to the program, Lori. Can you give us a brief overview of what happened last year as far as food programming for students?
- [Lori] Sure, thanks for having me, Sarah. So as school buildings closed at the start of the pandemic, student access to food was also cut off and prior to the pandemic just about 51% of Michigan kids relied on school meals as their primary source of nutrition and in Oakland County, that rate is about 30%. So on March 16th, 2020, a federal food program called the Unanticipated School Closure SFSP was swiftly put into action across Oakland County and our state to provide breakfast and lunch meals to kids. The impact of the Unanticipated School Closure SFSP and then subsequent programs have had a tremendous impact on preserving food security for our kids and our families county-wide. Students' access to food is really an equity issue and we all know that hungry kids can't learn. So food really helps level that playing field for student learning in the classroom or at home, wherever that learning was happening. So during the pandemic, many families found themselves needing food assistance for the very first time ever while some families were impacted to a lesser degree but in any case school meals really helped fill the nutrition gap for thousands of kids and families. In fact, just shy about 1 million meals per month on average were served in Oakland County during the pandemic. So in addition to school meals, School Food Service Programs also helped to distribute USDA food boxes during the pandemic and the USDA food boxes were surplus agricultural foods from USDA that had a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meats. And those were distributed to families last spring and summer of 2020. So another food program that really helped families this year was the Pandemic EBT program. And this program provided extra dollars for each qualified student that families could spend for the purchase of food and School Food Service Programs played in a central role in certifying families for this particular pandemic aid program.
- [Sarah] Yeah, it was a lot of good stuff last year. So what's happen for this school year?
- [Lori] Well, as we all know, the pandemic is tapering off but it does continue to linger and not all families are back to work or are financially stable just yet. So to address continued food insecurity in our nation, USDA issued a series of waivers this past spring that allow school districts to continue to offer breakfast and lunch meals to all students at no cost for the entire 21/22 school year so that's big news. And last year meals were distributed curbside or outdoors for bulk pickup by families. This year, as kids returned to the classroom school meals will return to the cafeteria and some districts will continue to implement new service models that support social distancing in cafeterias like hallway kiosks or in classroom meal service, et cetera. So in fact for breakfast, we know that the best way to get breakfast to kids in the morning is to meet them where they are. So that means providing meals in the classroom or passing out breakfast to high schools or middle school kids in the hallway as they enter the building that really helps to improve breakfast access and breakfast is especially important as we know because it's what fuels kids for morning learning. Another thing I'd like to mention for parents of students that may be participating in virtual learning in the fall, parents should check with their district food service department for days and locations of meal pickup for virtual learners. Not all districts are gonna offer virtual learning but for those that are, there may be meals available for their kids.
- [Sarah] Yeah, good to know that that they're available whether you're in-person or virtual, depending on the district. And when we talked earlier, you did mention that some changes have happened to the supply chain that may affect the meals students receive. Can you touch on that a little bit?
- [Lori] Sure, it's probably, you've heard our nation is currently experiencing labor shortages and that's been happening in many sectors of our economy, including, and especially in the service sector, especially in the food service industry as a whole. So as a result of worker shortages in the food industry in general, there have been some wrinkles in food production and distribution channels. And so these channels have been temporarily narrowed for the time being. So what this means for kids in the fall is that some menu choices and food varieties may change from what's listed on the menu with little advance. So in any case, I want parents to know that school meals will continue to be available to all students every day of the school year and that these meals will meet all nutritional requirements for our kids as well.
- [Sarah] All right, great, anything else food related we should be aware of going into this school year?
- [Lori] Well, of course, I'd like to encourage all students to give school lunch and breakfast to try this school year. If you haven't participated in the program before, now's a great time to take advantage of the program. It's convenient for parents and kids, it's fresh, it's delicious and designed especially for you. So typically each year, parents would need to fill out a free reduced lunch application to qualify their student for meals at no cost. I just wanna remind parents or I want parents to know that school districts are still going to send home, get free and reduced lunch application or in CEP districts, they're gonna send home a household information survey. And why is that? It's because student free or reduced eligibility data is used by school districts for a lot more than just school lunches. So districts use this free or reduced eligibility data for Title I funding, grant funding, E-rate funding, and even P-EBT eligibility determination for students. So I just wanna urge parents to fill out that free and reduced meal application when it arrives home in your child's backpack, your district will appreciate it.
- [Sarah] Yeah, very important to fill out those forms kind of how Dayna was referencing earlier with updating all your health and medical information as well. Amy, Lori had also mentioned that Hazel Park has an excellent food service program. So can you talk a little bit about what you're gonna be doing in that realm for students this year?
- [Amy] Sure and Lori, I really appreciate you mentioning those forms. I talk about it with parents all the time to explain why it's so important and we are a CEP district as well. And we're really fortunate to hand out those food boxes for almost a year and a half. And I personally was out there with families and I know that it was really beneficial and people still stop by on Thursdays looking for those food boxes, very, very helpful. So we served over 141,000 school lunches last year. And not only did our staff stand outside all year long because we had a lot of virtual families as well but they were inside those kitchens because we were back into school. So we're really fortunate. We had our bus drivers delivering about 100 lunches to families that could not come in and get them. But we also had volunteers from the United Way coming in, driving food to families that couldn't get them as well. And we took them downtown Detroit and into Troy where our families were because we operate center programs as well so anyone that needed them, we made sure that people were fed as we've had seven days of meals and breakfast and lunches to families. So we're really fortunate to have an outstanding food service program and made sure that also those EBT cards which were really difficult to navigate if families had difficulties even though it wasn't the school district's responsibility, we made sure that we reached out and helped all our parents do it. Our food service program is fantastic and it really made a difference in people's lives. And we know that, we know that our children need the food and made sure that we communicated on a regular basis out there to anyone in the community that was eligible to get that food to go forward and get it.
- [Sarah] Excellent. Well, thank you to each of you for participating in the podcast. You each have your area of expertise and I appreciate your insight. I hope that you and all of our listeners have a safe and healthy 2021/2022 school year. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools, Intermediate School Districts Communication Services and it's produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency in Oakland County, Michigan that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size and quality advantages to those we serve. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on our Oakland Schools website at oakland.k12.mi.us and Anchor FM. We hope you'll join us for our next episode, where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
When the pandemic hit, in-person learning stopped on a dime and school districts quickly set up online learning opportunities for students. It wasn’t an easy switch, but most students and staff were able to make the transition.
And while that worked as a temporary solution for most families, there were many who were left in a lurch.
For those with children who fall in the special populations category, the change from in-person to virtual learning simply didn’t work as many of those students require face-to-face interaction for learning to occur.
Luckily, many of our local educators and consultants stepped up and when everyone else was getting behind a computer screen, they masked up, grabbed their equipment and curriculum and headed to their students’ homes, the local park… wherever it was necessary to make sure these children didn’t get left behind and still got the learning they deserve.
Janet Hamblin and Kristen Strong, both Augmentative and Alternative Communication Consultants for Oakland Schools
Sarah Stargardt, Teacher Consultant For The Blind And Visually Impaired for Oakland Schools
Jeanette DeFrank, Paraprofessional for South Lyon Community Schools
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
- [Sarah] Hello, welcome to "Educationally Speaking." My name is Sarah Davis and I am a communication specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of "Educationally Speaking" is to focus on important topics related to education that affects students, parents, teachers and administrators. When the pandemic hit, in-person learning stopped on a dime and school districts quickly set up online learning opportunities for students. It wasn't an easy switch, but most students and staff were able to make the transition. And while that worked as a temporary solution for most families, there were many who are left in a lurch. For those with children who fall in the special populations category, the change from in-person to virtual learning simply didn't work, as many of those students require face-to-face interaction for learning to occur. Luckily, many of our local educators and consultants stepped up and when everyone else was getting behind a computer screen, they massed up, grabbed their equipment and curriculum and headed to their students' homes, the local park, wherever it was necessary to make sure these children didn't get left behind and still got the learning they deserve. Here to talk with us about all the ways in which Oakland County special populations teams engaged with their students this past year, are Janet Hamblin and Kristen Strong, both argumentative and alternative communication consultants for Oakland Schools, Sarah Stargardt, an Oakland Schools teacher consultant for the blind and visually impaired, and Jeanette DeFrank, a paraprofessional who supports a student with visual impairment for South Lyon Community Schools. Welcome to all of you, and thank you for being on the podcast. Janet and Kristen, we'll start with you. Can you explain what your job entails as augmentative and alternative communication consultants?
- [Janet] Yes, I can. We provide support and training for teachers, speech and language pathologists, parents, anyone working with students who have what we call complex communication needs, which are students who have difficulty using speech to communicate and they need another way to communicate. Our role is mostly providing these services to the adults who serve the children in the local districts. Although we do work in the classrooms and work with the students directly sometimes. And we have about 1300 students between five of us AAC consultants.
- [Kristen] And we're really lucky in Oakland County that Oakland Schools loans the communication systems to districts to use with students. And that's not true of every district in Michigan. And we provide everything from, you know, no tech paper-based communication books all the way up to super high tech communication systems. And the biggest part of our job is to help teachers and speech pathologists, parents, to use the communication systems in the classrooms so that that student is able to communicate throughout the day.
- [Sarah] Okay, so Kristen since your job is helping students who cannot communicate verbally or who need assistance in doing so, virtual learning is obviously a no go. So what are some things that you had to do right off the bat to ensure that these students continue to learn?
- [Kristen] One of the things that we realized was possible was that we could do some things virtually, but none of us had ever done it before. So as a team, we had to teach ourselves how to use Zoom, how to run a online lesson. We watched a lot of webinars and things right in the very beginning to train ourselves how to do that. And then we had to, we got together and ran virtual sessions with our speech pathologists and teachers where we could support each other and exchange ideas and talk about what are you using. And so we did that every week from the shutdown to just so that we could all learn what to do. The other challenge is that we needed a way to mirror the student's communication system over a virtual platform. So we had to literally make materials. We had to make sure that teachers had access to software that they needed to do that. So there was a huge learning curve, but it was a really, it was an exciting and creative time. And we got a lot done and our teachers did a really great job providing services even when we were completely shut down and couldn't see students face to face.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, thank you for that Kristen. Sarah, can you discuss your role as a teacher consultant for the blind and visually impaired?
- [Stargardt] There are 15 of us teacher consultants for the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists, that support approximately 310 students that are blind or visually impaired throughout Oakland County. So we provide either direct or consultative service to students ages zero through 26. And our direct service consists of traveling to the student's school and working one-on-one to teach them things such as how to read and write braille, how to use a wide variety of assistive technology. We teach them independent living skills like cooking, cleaning, and laundry. We work with self-advocacy skills which is how to talk about your vision impairment. We work on travel skills and cane skills. The consultative service looks a little different. It consists of us facilitating the inclusion of the student in all the facets of their educational environment. So that includes working directly with their classroom teachers regularly to ensure that everything they're teaching is accessible to a visually impaired child. That means all of the teachers board work, all of their group work, all their handouts, their textbooks, experiments they do, that all of those are provided in a way that our students can access them, and that they're meaningful to our students. It also includes working with like the PE teacher and the art teacher and the speech language pathologist, the OT and the Early On team that goes into the home and works with the birth to three population and their family. And then the last thing we do is that we conduct evaluations for any student who's suspected of having a visual impairment. And we determine if that vision is impacting their learning.
- [Sarah] All right, and like Janet and Kristen, obviously students who are blind and visually impaired cannot learn virtually. So what are some things that you and the other consultants had to start doing to ensure learning for these children continued?
- [Stargardt] Yeah, you're correct. There's certain things that just can't be explained or addressed virtually, especially to someone who has a visual impairment. And since blindness and low vision are considered low incidents, the technology they use can be incredibly specialized. Many times the parent doesn't know how to use the technology, particularly at a level that they're able to troubleshoot it. Or you might need to know braille to be able to use that technology which is not the case for many of our parents. So we would meet students in parking lots or parks and have them bring their technology, so we can get help them with the issues they're having. Or we might need to teach them how to use the specific technology now to access this new type of instruction. These platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet they weren't really being used regularly before the pandemic, so accessing them with assistive technology was really new to our students. So you might've seen any number of teacher consultants in the parking lot with the students, the parents, sometimes the sibling running around, we're all trying to get a wifi signal, we really had to think outside of the box and be creative to figure out ways to support the students and the families while we're still ensuring that everybody is safe. So luckily with our students that are braille users, we have an extra level of support from their peer professionals. Peer professionals played a huge role in bridging the gap between in-person learning and virtual learning for our students who are visually impaired.
- [Sarah] Right, and that brings us to Jeanette who is at the district level, experiencing many of the same adjustments as their consultants. Jeanette, can you first explain what it is you do for South Lyon Community Schools and what are some issues you encountered?
- [Jeanette] Like you said, I'm a para educator I'm a VI para educator, which means I work with students with visual impairments. Right now I work one-on-one with an elementary age student who's in Gen Ed, she's totally blind. So that means she uses braille for reading, writing, pretty much all of her written communication is only braille. She does have some different ways to write. So there is some electronics, but there's also just some old fashioned braille writers that we use. My job is to make her classwork accessible to her. That could mean making braille packets accessible, working with her on her braille note, which is like like I was saying, the electronics, it's like a braille computer, which is what she uses a lot to read and write and to communicate with the teacher, 'cause she's able to send word documents that way to the teacher. We spend a lot of time with math working one-on-one, also we work very closely with the TC, her TC, which is what Sarah does. One of Sarah's colleagues I work very closely with. So with the pandemic happening so fast, and of course, none of us being prepared for it, we had to do everything very quickly. And so the first challenge was just getting all that equipment we needed from school to home and getting any materials to the student and not knowing how long we were gonna be out could have been a week, could have been a month. We didn't, we had no idea of course at that time. So knowing what to supply the student with and ourselves was a challenge for sure, but how many materials were going to be taught. So that was the other thing, we didn't, the teachers had no idea yet what they were teaching. We didn't know what materials were gonna be introduced to the student. So that was a big challenge for us.
- [Sarah] Right, and so that kind of touches on our next question which is a key part of assisting these students is obviously you need the material to do that, but as we can all recall, the pandemic effectively stopped them making and delivering of many things. So can you talk a little bit about how you ensured students still had access to the items they needed? Janet, I think you had something to add to this part.
- [Janet] Yes, I do. We as consultants rely heavily on our materials, the Oakland Schools material center is where all of the communication systems that we use are prepped and sent out. And when the pandemic happened, it basically stopped all shipping from our material center because they had no place to really ship it to, because typically it would be shipped to the local district. So we had a bit of a panic there, and we really had to think about this. And so it became basically we had to pick up the materials for our students at our material center, make arrangements with usually the speech and language pathologist or the teacher in the district to meet somewhere, so that we could drop it off. We also drop things off on people's porches. I had some equipment dropped off on my porch. We had to just kind of like find a place that would work good for all of us which was very difficult at times to coordinate. And everyone had a different level of comfort about this piece of it too. So that just added a little more, I think, to the whole thing, you know. I just think we got really good also though at sharing the resources we could electronically, it kind of made us step up our game with some of those support materials that, you know, we would be able to share with them electronically. So, yeah, we did a lot of traveling. I think I put a lot more miles on my car than I ever have in all of my years at Oakland Schools. So, but it did work out and we managed to make sure that our kids got the communication systems that they needed put in place.
- [Sarah] Excellent, and Sarah did you have something to contribute as well?
- [Stargardt] Yeah, I do. Kind of what Janet was saying, we were kind of like the Uber Eats of materials. If you're visually impaired you need to have your hands on things to learn. You can't just sit in front of a screen that you likely can't see. So we were making tons of tactile materials, braille materials, and dropping them off on porches. So we not only prepare these materials for our own lessons that we were gonna do with students, but we also had to create materials to support what the classroom teachers were doing or what the art teacher was doing or what the music teacher was doing. So we're making all these things and we're Ubering around to different people's houses. And then for our low vision students, we had to supply an extra level of technology support, because the students needed a large monitor to be able to see the Zoom session that was happening, but they also needed a device to be able to do their work on 'cause most of our low vision students use technology to complete their work. So they needed this extra level. So we were dropping off monitors and laptops and iPads on porches. And then also trying to support the parents with how to set up and connect this equipment.
- [Sarah] And Jeanette, there was something that you wanted to add as well?
- [Jeanette] Yeah, so a lot like Sarah was saying, our students definitely with visual impairments or my student and in her case being blind, she has to have her hands on things. The computer screen does not work. Obviously you can hear somebody, and you can still communicate, but you can't do work or see anything that's going on. I had so many things, stuff, my whole family room was filled with computers, printers. I have a braille printer, just all the materials, everything you need for math. So like math manipulatives, different books, braille books are probably, I don't know, three, four or five times the size of a regular book. So if you have a chapter book, it could be maybe four or five volumes of a book. So just space taking everything and to not know what you need to. So, but once the teachers had decided what they were gonna do, they ended up putting out packets for the kids once a week, some of the kids were able to access them online. If they couldn't access the packet online, they would be able to go to the school and pick it up. I just would make that packet then accessible for her in braille. I would print it out in braille, drop it off at her house once a week. Then I would do a print copy for her parents, so they knew exactly what her accessible copy looked like, which is a lot of times different than what the classroom copy would look like. Make a copy of the word document for the TC as well as for the teacher. So we were all literally on the same page knowing what we were looking at, and being able to work with her weekly, sometimes two or three times a week, we would have meetings and talk about and walk her through her packets, whether it was math or whatever portion of the packet she was doing.
- [Sarah] Right, and that brings us to another key aspect in all of this which was working with the parents of the students. So prior to the pandemic, yes of course, you worked with the parents and they were all kept aware of the curriculum and the goals of the learning you were instilling in their children. But for the most part, you all were the ones implementing the lessons. However, during the pandemic, that changed because the families were all of a sudden everyone's at home. And so everyone is involved in the learning process. And a lot of that meant first training the parents on how to use some of the special populations equipment. Can each of you to talk a little bit about that new challenge? Kristen, do you wanna start us off?
- [Kristen] Yeah, sure. So the very first week after we shut down, we'd sent the schools were sending all the devices home with the kids in their backpacks. And I wanna say probably five people called me to say that the family had locked up, inadvertently locked up 'cause we use a lot of iPads. So they had inadvertently locked up the iPads. So they were not working. I was on the phone with them, talking them through how to unlock it and get it working again. They needed a lot of technical support and also they just, a lot of families hadn't really used the devices at home. They knew that they were being used at school. They might've used them a little bit at home on the weekend, but they weren't really sure how to go about that. And so we ended up creating, our department, we created some videos for parents instructional videos of first of all, how to not have the iPad get locked. That was in the first video and how to take care of it and some general information about how it was used. And then the second one was here's how to use this communication system in your home, in your day to day life. So some of those things that in the back of our minds we wanted to do those some day, some day was now, and we had to get those things done and out to families. We put them on YouTube because most families know what YouTube is and it's very accessible to anybody. And it was really helpful for them. And we actually silver lining a lot of the families really got good at using those and incorporating those devices into their daily life. And students made progress over the pandemic while we were shut down.
- [Sarah] Right, and that YouTube channel is something we're gonna talk about a little bit more later because it's such a great asset. I think that you and Janet created. Janet do you have anything to add?
- [Janet] Like I said, it was something that we always wanted to do and this sort of forced us to step up our timeline. And I think the products, the videos, the implementation videos were so helpful. And I think that parents took a greater interest in investment in these communication devices which is something that we have struggled with in the past. So once again, another silver lining, the parents really stepped up to the plate. Kids made a lot of progress and as we all know, communication happens everywhere. And when you have everyone on board, everyone, you know, doing it together, it really was a beautiful thing. It really was. So I think a lot of kudos to all the parents, siblings, and everyone else who stepped up and started modeling that communication at their house.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, Sarah?
- [Stargardt] Yeah, so as I mentioned before, I mean, it was really quite a trip particularly for parents of braille readers. So to use the technology that their child uses, they need to know braille and many parents, you know, they don't know the braille code or they don't use it often enough to be fluent in it. So in some ways the students served as almost an interpreter between us, the teachers of the visually impaired and their parents, which I have to say many of the students got quite a kick out of.
- [Sarah] I bet, Jeanette?
- [Jeanette] Yeah, basically off of what Sarah was just saying, with that braille technology, even if the parents do know braille, which sometimes if you don't use it, you definitely lose it. So it's not something they would use every day even though they might be able to recognize some of the code but the braille technology is a whole different thing. And it's hard for me when I use it even every day. It's even hard for the student and the hard thing for our student knows, she's just learning it. So, and we didn't want that learning to stop. We couldn't afford for that learning to stop. So we would have meetings with her parents, with a specialist, our specialists from tech at Oakland Schools who would at least once a week so graciously meet with us as well. And her TC, sometimes her teacher would join, but all of us just probably too many cooks in the kitchen sometimes, but when you're working virtual. But she did not just kind of keep up. She definitely, beyond our expectations had learned way more probably. And that's probably one of those silver lining things here, but she learned more because we were able to have that one-on-one time so specific and specified to that equipment. And I think her parents probably learned a ton too.
- [Sarah] Yeah, excellent. So each of you also shared that you had interesting stories related to delivering these services in person. I think Janet you even called it parking lot problem-solving. Kristen, would you like to share a story related to providing these services to our local students?
- [Kristen] Sure, one of the things that we put off for a while was mounting devices to wheelchairs, because some of our students are physically impaired. They may be in a wheelchair and they're not going to carry the device around. So we need to have it mounted onto the chair so that they can use it. And we kind of kept putting those off because you have to get really close to the student. The student needs to be in the chair, you have to get real close to them. You're bending over them trying to get everything in the right spot. So we putting that off, and then finally we just, when we realized this is going on and on and it's gonna be going on a while, we can't put it off anymore. So one of our districts, Bloomfield Wing Lake School put up a big, like a tent, like, looks like an awning, right? Big awning, and so we actually, and it was cold, it was November. We all went out into that tent and with the parent, the parents' interpreter, myself, our Oakland Schools tech specialist who was gonna do the mounting and the speech pathologist and the teacher. And we were all outside in our coats getting that communication system mounted to the chair. So, you know, you do what you need to do. It was nice that we had that option of being outside and being able to distance and be safe, but who would've thought we'd be doing that in November outside. So that was quite the adventure.
- [Sarah] Yeah, absolutely. And kudos to the school district for helping them make that happen as well. Janet, do you have a story?
- [Janet] I do, it's kind of a story about how things that we sort of take for granted as being kind of a simple thing to do, becomes very complicated during a pandemic. I had one school district colleague that went back to school sooner than a lot of the other school districts. And so they were open, ready to go. I had a young kindergartner who needed to be considered for a communication device and we decided to do it in person. The parent wanted to be a part of it. And so I walk into the school, you know, with my mask and all, you know, protected, and then the principal goes around and finds a big giant room and like separates all the chairs so that we're all sitting at least six feet apart. You know, during this time you're asking questions. You want the student to try some things. And so, you know, it's kind of like, okay, well there's my iPad and now she's touching it but she doesn't wanna wear a mask, 'cause she's just like a little kindergartner and she's pulling it off and stuff. And so I'm wiping it down with my little sanitizing wipes and, you know we're trying to communicate with each other about making a decision about what would be best for this young lady. And it just, yeah, it turned into quite a challenge. I mean, we did do it and everybody came out of it safe, but it just showed how much difference that made in the things that we think about and the things that we do. And yeah, it was just quite an experience to see the challenge that we had getting in person like that.
- [Sarah] Right, and I think we have to remember too even earlier on, we didn't know, you know what was causing the virus to spread or, you know, was it by touching iPads, you know? So everything was scary, even as simple as meeting in person and having someone touch an iPad and then giving it to someone else, you know? So yeah, definitely a difficult situation. Sarah, do you have a story to share?
- [Stargardt] Yeah, so the story that sticks out in my head is my colleague was having difficulty implementing this piece of technology for her student and her student needed this new piece of technology for virtual instruction. So she asked me to come because I happen to have a lot of experience with that particular piece of technology. But the student is not only visually impaired, but she's deaf as well. So an interpreter also needed to be there. So the information had to start with my colleague and then go to me and then go to the interpreter and then filtered to the student. And by the time the information finally got to the poor student, she like had her head down and she was bored out of her mind by waiting for it to filter it through like four different people. And this is all while we are trying to be six feet apart from each other, and we all have these clear masks on hoping that maybe she's gonna be able to see our lips. And then the clear mask kept fogging up. And it was definitely an exercise in patience for all of us.
- [Sarah] Oh my gosh. That's like the ultimate telephone game.
- [Stargardt] Right?
- [Sarah] So there was also a huge emotional toll that came with continuing to work face to face during this time, as many students who are in our special populations sector are also more vulnerable to catching viruses like COVID-19. Can you each discuss that component and how it affected you, Kristen?
- [Kristen] Yeah, so many, many of my students are not only physically impaired, but also have a lot of medical challenges, breathing issues, all the types of things that you would worry about that student catching COVID-19. So when students started returning to school on a limited basis, there were times when I needed to go in and be face-to-face with students. And every single time I always, you know, I always had my mask, all the, you know, safety precautions, but I always thought to myself I hope I am not the one who gives this student COVID and then they have a serious situation. So, it was always on my mind I always worried about not only, you know, myself and my own family, but the students that we serve and the staff, like, I don't wanna give this to someone and be the one that spread it all over. So it was, there was a lot of anxiety about that.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, Janet?
- [Janet] Yes, kind of to build on what Kristen was saying. I have a husband who has who is very impaired by it and who has a lot of issues with breathing, swallowing, things like that. And so in the same sense as worrying about the students, because at that time, like you said, we didn't know that much about it. All I kept thinking was, gosh, am I gonna go into a school and then bring this home to my family? And you know, how bad, I mean, of course you feel horrible. So I always, in my mind was not only worried about protecting the students we serve, but I was worried about protecting my own husband. So it was very emotional. There was a lot of, yeah, a lot of moments where it was scary, very scary.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, Sarah?
- [Stargardt] So, I guess when I think about this question what comes to my mind is the birth to three population was really, I mean everybody was affected, but it really had broke my heart because those babies typically, if they're born blind, it's not just blindness, it's usually something else. And they're so medically fragile. And we always go to the home to work with the babies and the family. So, because those babies are so medically fragile and they're so little, going into the home it's just not something those parents were willing to do to put their children at risk. So then you think of those parents and they're so isolated, they're at home and they don't wanna go out because they don't wanna get exposed and they don't wanna bring it home to their babies. So we would then be Zooming with them and they wanted that support and they wanted that information. But then at the same time, you're asking them to open up a computer or an iPad and try to listen to you when they have a crying baby or a one crawling around in the background. And you're just thinking, I wish I could be there, you know to be an extra set of hands for you and help you through this process. It was, that part felt really emotional.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, Jeanette?
- [Jeanette] I think, you know, at first it was just kind of, there was a lot of fear at first and we didn't know what's going on. And just the challenge with wanting to make sure that my student was gonna be successful and having to figure out how that would possibly happen. It was a lot of trial and error and a little bit later as we came back to work and the students were still at home, we were able to have our students, my student was able to come in, and she was the only one that would come into school. And so really like everyone else was saying, I was the only person that she was with outside of her family. So that was very stressful because I have teenagers at home who I was, they were staying home, but kind of, you know, venturing a little bit too. So that was just really scary. I didn't wanna be responsible for that, for any part of her getting sick or anything happening to her family. Her grandmother was with her a lot, because she was home and her parents would have to work. So that was stressful. So her being in the building here without being around anybody else, just being around us and then being worried about my own family, just having that stress that we all had and that fear and like I'm ultra, I'm probably still ultra emotional just because I think something broke. I don't know what happened, but it just has led us to be much more sensitive to things, I think.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, I mean all those stories are just, they're heartbreaking. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been for each one of you and everyone that was out in the field like that during this time. I mean, kudos to you for still going out and doing all of that. I would like to end the podcast on an uplifting note, because there are a lot of positives that actually came from having to figure out how to continue to teach in person during this time. What are some of the things that you feel like, you know, you were able to accomplish or that came about as better for the future moving forward in how you educate your students, Kristen?
- [Kristen] Well, we talked a little bit about the YouTube channel earlier, but one of the things that I know I always wanted, and it became more of a necessity in general for everyone, is to have a way to, if something was going wrong with the technology, or I didn't know much about it, that I would have on-demand resource that I could just pull up on my phone and fix my own problems. And so we were able to expand, we started before the pandemic with making instructional and informational videos about communication systems and communication apps and how to use an iPad for communication. But we really expanded over that time because we had so many families at home who needed that. And I learned to do it, my son and some film students. So I learned from him and then Janet and I and Robin and our material center all work together and started making more videos. And so now we have this lasting resource that's always there for people to grab. They don't have to wait for a workshop to come. They can get it right now when they need it. So we're really proud of that. And I'm excited to continue and move forward with that.
- [Sarah] Excellent, Janet?
- [Janet] Yes, once again, just to kind of build on that. I worked very closely for years and years with our material center and Robin who is one of our co-workers to create paper-based technology supports. And that was really all I knew. Maybe I'm aging myself by saying this, but that's where I thought would be the best way, something we could send out when someone asked a question and then when Kristen joined us, she taught me how to make videos. And she taught me all these cool things and it was really exciting. So we took those paper-based things that we already had created and were able to transfer them into a video format, which to me, it was just amazing. I'm so very proud of all the work we've done. And so now people who like to read it can have the paper-based support and people who like to watch it can have the videos. So, I think that's one of the really positive things that happened for me, was I learned how to do a lot of things that I didn't know how to do before. And I have my wonderful co-worker here, Kristen to thank for that. And so it really stepped up my game in ways that I know that I will carry on even after the pandemic is hopefully behind us.
- [Sarah] Right, yeah, I think a lot of times you might focus on, you know, how is the education improved or all of that, but, you know personally it could have changed some things for the better for each of us, like you said, in terms of learning more for ourselves as well. So that's an interesting perspective, Sarah?
- [Stargardt] Yeah, so I think the biggest thing that stands out to me as a positive was parent connection. So parents were able to see like for the first time what their child was learning firsthand and what they're actually capable of. I mean, how many times does a parent get to see their child at school repeatedly? So this was, this was cool. I think for a lot of parents and, you know, they have to work, but when they could be involved,, they were willing to sit next to their child watch them learn and see the process. And so, especially if it's something very specialized with like braille instruction or the technology, they we're able to stay and watch the process repeatedly. And it got them to a level where they actually knew it and could support it better. So then the parents were then supporting on the evenings and the weekends, and I felt like it developed a whole another level of learning for the child now that their parents knew the process.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, and then that only helps everyone moving forward then too, whether there's a pandemic or not just to have the parents more involved, Jeanette?
- [Jeanette] I agree 100% with Sarah, what she was just saying about the parents, because before I think that our students would go to school they would learn even separate from how they're learning in the classroom, a lot of times, especially with the blind students 'cause they're using different manipulatives and different ways of learning so that the parents really didn't have any idea. And we couldn't really send a lot of work home, because when we wanted the students to do any kind of homework, they didn't have a lot of help because the verbiage is different that we might use or just all the materials are different. So now that's a really nice thing that when we talk about certain things, certain materials that the student's using, the parent can be on board. If we wanna send some homework home, they can be on board knowing exactly what materials to use and the verbiage to use as well. And one more thing, it made my student 100% more independent. So she needed to, because again, like Sarah was saying, she was teaching her parents a lot. And so I think it made her feel more independent and she just has a lot more self-confidence.
- [Sarah] Excellent, those are amazing changes and I'm sure very helpful to our special populations community. One last thing I wanna touch on before we go is I heard about these playground communication boards that are now up all over Oakland County. Kristen or Janet I think this is your area. Can you talk about what those are, how the public can purchase them and give us a couple of locations where families can check them out?
- [Janet] I can, just to kind of explain, because not showing it a communication board is a board that uses symbols or pictures and children can either point to the symbols, they can gaze at the symbols, they can gesture to let other people know what they want to say. And we use these all the time in a low, no tech format, you know, around our students, maybe if their communication device breaks down, things like that. So, what came out was that students out on the playground a lot of them were not taking their iPad, because they're running around and they're playing. And I had a request from one of our local districts. They were going to have some grants and they were talking about getting communication boards in a larger size, so that they could be put out on their playground. And some of the companies that create communication apps and devices were doing some of these things. And so I worked with our printing and graphics department. We created a communication board, and they sort of took over the piece of like what kind of material could we put this on so that it would be able to go out on a playground and not get destroyed? Of course, you know, we talked about how could it be mounted whether it would be like a banner or a sign. And our printing and graphics department worked with me. I created the PDF for this board, and then they took it, blew it up, put it on a weatherproof type of material so that, and they went and even went so far as to create ways for it to be mounted so that anyone who purchased one had different options for mounting it, they really just stepped up and did a beautiful, beautiful job. And now they're available for sale and there are different options. Like I said, you can have just one-sided, two-sided different mounting options. So the cost varies depending on what people want to purchase. And it can be ordered through our printing and graphics department. They have, like I said, all these options for how you want it mounted. And it's really, if you take a look at it on their webpage, it's very, very nice to be able to see it. But also we do have them all around the county. And the ones that really stick out for me are, there's one in Waterford Hathaway Park where they have a all kids playground. So it's an accessible playground for kids in wheelchairs or, you know, whatever. And they actually, the Waterford parks and recreation and a local family donated the money to put one of these at that park. And then also one of our local districts has one at Simonds Elementary in Madison Heights that can be looked at. And I believe South Lyon also has one. And so it's just such a cool thing because our kids can then communicate what they want to play on, whether they need help, whether they like this or don't like it. And then the kids who are playing on the playground with them can also communicate back with them by using this board. So it's really, really a very cool thing.
- [Sarah] Yeah, something that you don't often think about is that students need a way to communicate when they play. So when I read about these boards, I just, I thought it was something everyone should know about. And in our show notes, I will provide the web address for Oakland Schools Print Shop. So if there's a local district or local person who wants to contribute a board to a playground, they'll have that information. And just to add real quick, I will also put in our show notes, the web address or your YouTube channel, Janet and Kristen, so that our listeners can engage with the information on there if they would like to. So thank you to each of you for being on the podcast. You are all just absolute heroes for your dedication during these trying times. And I hope it only gets easier from here. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts' Communication Services, and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency in Oakland County, Michigan. They offer support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size and quality advantages to those we serve. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this in future episodes of "Educationally Speaking" and at Oakland Schools website at oakland.k12.mi.us/podcast and Anchor FM. We hope you'll join us for our next episode, where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
This year, there has been a huge uptick in the amount of staff who have left the education profession due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers, in particular, are retiring, but the issue is touching every aspect of the education field from superintendents to bus drivers.
In our January Educationally Speaking podcast titled "Where are they? Why students are increasingly leaving the classroom," we explored why more students have left school due to the pandemic. Now we want to look at the staff side of the equation and discuss this loss that is occurring as well as some solutions for that loss.
Karen Olex, Oakland Schools' Executive Director of Special Populations
Dr. Christopher Lee, Oakland Schools' Teacher Induction And Social Studies Consultant
Carol Diglio, Oak Park Schools' Assistant Superintendent Of Human Resources
Cara Lougheed, 2019-2020 Michigan Teacher Of The Year
Contact NTIP on Twitter at @NTIPINOC or #NTIPINOC or Dr. Christopher Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
- [Sarah] Hello, welcome to "Educationally Speaking". My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of "Educationally Speaking" is to focus on important topics related to education that affect students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Today, we're gonna tackle an education issue that is affecting the entire state. This year, there has been a huge uptick in the amount of staff who have left the education profession due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teachers, in particular, are retiring, but the issue is touching every aspect of the education field from superintendents to bus drivers. According to a recent article in "Crain's Detroit Business", state records show that from August, 2020 to February, 2021, there was a 44% increase in mid-year retirements compared to the same period in 2019-2020 as 749 teachers left public school classrooms in the middle of the school year. In our January "Educationally Speaking" podcast titled, "Where Are They?", Why students are increasingly leaving the classroom," we explored why more students have left school due to the pandemic. Now we wanna look at the staff side of the equation and discuss this loss that is occurring as well as some solutions for that loss. Joining me today to talk about this topic are Karen Olex, Executive Director of Special Populations at Oakland Schools, Dr. Christopher Lee, Teacher Induction and Social Studies Consultant with Oakland Schools, Carol Diglio, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Oak Park Schools, who actually has such a passion for this topic that she came out of retirement, and Cara Lougheed, who was the 2019-2020 Michigan Teacher of the Year. Thank you all for being here. I'm so humbled to be speaking with such an esteemed and accomplished group. So first, let's try to get a handle on the situation. Carol, can you talk a little bit about some of the recent data associated with this loss at the district level?
- [Carol] Absolutely. It's hard to talk just at the district level as this is really complicated nationwide. Some of the research that I've been following through the Learning Policy Institute started to come out in 2016. And I think all of our districts, not only in Michigan, but across the country are feeling the complications of fewer teachers going into the profession. There is data that says it's as high as 35% fewer. Young people are choosing education as a major when they go to college. And the most recent ACT test showed that 5% of our students taking the ACT said they consider education, which is a 29% decline from the 2010, 2014 years. So when we look at what is happening at the district, and state, and national level, we see far fewer teachers coming into the profession and then we see a very large group of people leaving the profession. Only about 12% have left the profession due to retirement. The rest are leaving to leave the profession. And that's a great concern. And then the data that you shared earlier, the mid-year retirement, complicates things because it really has an impact on the classroom and the learning community as a whole. It's a disruption in relationships, the disruption in routine, and that's where we really see things at the district levels when we're losing folks mid year and we don't have the same consistent teacher in the classroom.
- [Sarah] Absolutely. Okay, very interesting stance, especially that one about it's not all retirement, it's people just not sticking with the profession anymore. Chris, do you have anything to add from what you've seen at the ISD level?
- [Chris] Yes, Sarah. Thanks for having us on the podcast, really appreciate it. I think the first thing is I think back to when I graduated in 2018 with my doctorate, I had been in Michigan for six, seven years at that time. And so, I had watched a number of undergraduate classes come and go. And even back from 2011 to 2018, we were seeing the numbers of undergraduates slowly but steadily declining. So that by the end of my time at the University of Michigan, it was very, very concerning. I mean, they were talking about having to even cut some lines of funding for professorships. So, it was bad back then. Now on top of that, since I've come to Oakland Schools and have been working on the new teacher induction program, we've seen that, you know, I would talk to districts and say, "How many teachers do you expect to hire in the next year?" 'Cause we were trying to get a sense of how we should plan as a program for the coming school year. And I would hear a district say, "Oh, we're expecting to hire 10 new teachers," or, "Five new teachers," or, "15 new teachers." Inevitably, I mean, without fail, districts would hire 50 to 100% more than what they had originally told me. So what that's telling me is that even from early on before the pandemic, five years ago, we were seeing districts churning through new teachers more quickly than they had anticipated. So pre-pandemic, we're seeing this churn. It's not just teachers leaving the profession, it's also teachers churning through districts. So you have teachers that are in churn schools coming to one group of public districts, public school districts. And then you have another group of teachers that are in one group of public school districts going to another set of public school districts. So, there's churn and there's loss, right? And then on top of all that, we have the pandemic, which exacerbated the already very dangerous situation we have with regard to new teachers and the shortage of new teachers. This is not the shortages of the past. We've always had these sort of waves of teacher shortages. And in my opinion, those shortages have been cyclical. Like for example, the last shortage we had was really as a result of the great recession. This shortage is both cyclical and structural, and that's a real problem.
- [Sarah] Absolutely. So, thanks, Chris, for that. That kind of gives us a good overview of the problem. And as I understand it from talking with all of you, the reasons for why teachers and other education professionals are leaving the field is varied and complex, and there's no way we can cover everything in this podcast, but we'll try to get through the biggies. So, it seems that the reasons for staff leaving branches off into two different avenues, policy issues and culture changes. So first, we're gonna talk strictly about the policy issues. Carol, from your point of view, what are some things going on policy-wise which are currently causing this exodus?
- [Carol] A great question. I think policy is important. Structure, predictability, process is all really important. The hard part about policy is sometimes policy has made and it's not connected to practice. There were a lot of policy changes, and we can go back to 2008, as Chris mentioned the recession, I don't think we've ever recovered fully. Schools across the board have never recovered fully from the recession and the number of pay cuts that schools took due to the recession and the number of programs that were lost. And when we talk about policy and we talk about decisions made about pay, so many of us lost social workers, counselors, psychs, our support ancillary staff that really is paramount to students in school today. We talk so much about the social, emotional support of it. But if we jump to 2010 and we talk policy, you had a Michigan Merit Curriculum change where we went from one required credit to 18 required credits, the teacher tenure law where we went from four years for tenure to five years. And that law also made it clear that seniority no longer is a major factor policy change of the hard cap for insurance, retirement went to a 401k. Our evaluation system changed drastically. And when you look at policies and what we wanna do as a state and nation to prepare kids, a lot of that is around technology, CTE, and things like that. And so much of that has been cut from 2008. So when we talk about policy and what policy wants to see us do at the ground level for education, the two are not speaking clearly enough. The basic needs in many schools, basic needs are not being met, yet the policy is saying, we're going to increase tenure, we're gonna take away rights of negotiators, and I'm a chief negotiator, so I do contracts, but it's difficult for our teaching staff. We're going to put a hard cap, we're gonna take away your retirement. We're gonna increase the evaluation system, but we want you to do more for less. And I'll say, it's not all about money. Teachers, educators, administrators, paraprofessional, bus drivers want to just be supported. Yes, that does equate to a paycheck. That is part of it. But other is making sure we financially are able to support the basic needs of our educators so that we can elevate as policy wants us to. And so, there's a lot of work between those two pieces.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, thanks for that, Carol. And Karen, you're able to give a unique perspective of what is going on in the special education sector. What are some things taking place just in special ed that are causing issues?
- [Karen] So, yeah, so I kind of support what Carol had said. And some examples of that is as special educators, job responsibilities are usually so much more vast than that of a general education teacher. Special educators are often required to have a working knowledge of each grade level curriculum or in the secondary level, whatever the discipline curriculum is of that, whether it be social studies or science. So they have a working knowledge of that, as well as a real good understanding of individual with disabilities, learning disabled, cognitively impaired, emotionally impaired, students on the autism spectrum. They have to understand the curriculum as well as the disabilities in relationship to what individual students needs academically in order to be successful, what their social emotional needs are and what their behavioral needs are. Special educators also have to be well-versed in co-teaching, inclusion, collaboration, instructional strategies, assistive technology, as well as holding a really solid understanding of IDEA law and the Michigan rules and regulations, which govern that IDEA law here in Michigan. This requires extra hours of training for the special educator outside of the already extensive university preparation that they have to undergo to even get a teaching credential because a special educator is required to be a general educator first before they can even move toward a special education endorsement. So in reality, special educators have already spent, they have spent significantly more time preparing to become a teacher, whether it be taking classes which cost money or just doing professional learning to understand, yet they always enter the field on the entry-level pay scale for them. In addition, special educators often describe their jobs as overwhelming. They're required to complete a staggering amount of paperwork. They have to document individually on each student's and the services that those students receive as well as progress each student makes towards goals and objectives that are determined at the annual meeting or the IEP meeting that happens. This requires hours of preparation, coordination with other staff that have to attend it, and time to actually do the documenting. This is all above and beyond the creation of lesson plans and the execution of those lesson plans. So the clerical requirements of special educators are large and vast. And special educators who leave the field often cite the fact that they cannot achieve a balance between creating and executing lessons, teaching the students, as well as meeting the demands of all the clerical, and managerial, and non-traditional duties that they have to do as well as their home life balance.
- [Sarah] All right, thanks for the insight, Karen. I think a lot of times, the special ed teaching population kind of gets overlooked and we're always focusing on the general ed. So, I'm really happy to have that perspective for this important discussion here today. Now, let's get to the culture part, which I suspect is just as much of the issue here as policy problems. Chris, you've been at this for a while. You started Oakland Schools New Teacher Induction Program five years ago, because the fact of the matter is, and I think you already mentioned this earlier, is we were having trouble recruiting and retaining teachers even then. And in fact, we had a podcast with you on it where we talked about this issue before the pandemic. COVID has just exasperated a problem that the state has already had, correct?
- [Chris] Yes, and before we jump into culture, I actually wanna say one more thing about policy, if I could. One thing that we didn't talk about was that the state has a requirement that all new teachers in the first three years of their career receive an additional 90 hours of professional development. So what that means is that any teacher that's just starting in Michigan has to recertify basically every five years. And that's 30 hours per year, 150 hours in five years. Over and above, that 150 hours in the first five years, they have to have an additional 90 hours in their first three years if they're in the first three years of their career. So, think about that. In the first three years of your career, you have to have 60 hours of professional development outside of your normal Workday. I mean, that is a lot. And it's not to say that new teachers don't need that extra time to learn their craft, and to learn how to do their job well and to be supported by their mentors and ancillary staff and ISD staff, right? But what is to say is it's a lot, and those 90 new teacher hours in the first three years of a teacher's career, that's something that has not really been looked at again in a way that thinks about, is this something we wanna... It hasn't been re-evaluated in light of the teacher shortage and also in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. So I think on policy, that's a really important thing to remember as well, in addition to everything that Karen and Carol said. In terms of the culture, I think that what we've seen in the last year and a half has been a real whiplash, right? We've seen teachers before the pandemic being treated as they've been treated for decades, which is something less than what they really are, which is professionals with advanced degrees and certifications, multiple advanced degrees and certifications. And then the pandemic hits, and teachers are forced to teach from home and do something that has never been done in living memory, probably ever, right? And so, teachers are heroes. But then once we come back to school and people wanna try and get back to normal but the pandemic is still raging, all that is forgotten, all that work has been forgotten. And so, now teachers in the popular imagination have been pulled back into this place where, we like our teacher, but teachers in general don't need a raise, teachers in general don't need more support, right? So there's been a real whiplash culturally, I think, in the last year and a half. And that, you know, it's normally just bad for teachers, but it's been a real back and forth for us in the last year and a half.
- [Sarah] Absolutely. Well, thanks for that history lesson, Chris. And there's no one else better to speak to this issue than Cara. Cara, can you talk a little bit about how this last year has been in the culture shift you have seen as a teacher?
- [Cara] Sure, it's been something to behold, that's for sure. I think that Chris brought up a lot of really good points about how teachers have been treated. And I think it got worse after the recession of 2008 when districts had to really tighten their belts and teachers felt the brunt of that. And a lot of times took pay cuts, or furlough days, or increased payments and benefits, and all of those things to help the districts and then really never recouped any of that. And so, then you add this pandemic onto all of that and all the extra things that we're being asked to do in addition to the extra things we were already doing. And what that leads to is a lot of exhausted, frustrated people. And when you have people like that in front of kids, then the kids think, "Well, why would I wanna be a teacher if this is how they're treated and this is how stressed out they are." And that's hurting our profession too, because we are in front of the people who we want to be teachers someday and then they don't wanna be teachers. And we don't do it on purpose. I make sure to try to leave my stress outside of my classroom and like really be present for my students, but they can tell. And I think what layered on top of that even too is that some districts, mine did not, but some districts then also asked teachers to basically do two jobs at once, be an online teacher and a classroom teacher at the same time. And I'm telling you, I've been doing this for 22 years. And being an in-person classroom teacher is hard enough. I can't imagine trying to do both, because I'm teaching students online is not the same job as teaching students in front of you in a classroom. And a lot of districts just acted like it was. And there's only so many times that you can say to someone, "Just figure it out on your own." Before, they were just like, "No I'm done. I don't have to do this. I can work someplace else." And that's what we're seeing, or, "I can retire," right? That's what we're seeing. And I wanna circle back to what Karen was saying, because this is even more exacerbated in our special education teachers because you heard that list of all the things special education teachers have to do, and now they have to do it also online or they have to do it when the kids aren't here every day, because attendance is also a huge issue this year, getting kids to show up to school once we actually opened the schools and get people back in seats. And so, we have our general education teachers under an immense amount of pressure, and then our special education teachers have that pressure, plus everything they have to do with their caseload students. And it's been, I mean, I do tell everyone that, "Hey, at least we're now experts in pandemic teaching," like they can't bring someone in to tell us how to do it, 'cause we all did it.
- [Sarah] Right, like the like the straw that broke the camel's back.
- [Cara] Right.
- [Sarah] Thank you for that, Cara. And we've already kind of touched on this, but Karen, like we mentioned, culture is a huge issue within the special education field right now as well. What are some culture problems those professionals are experiencing?
- [Karen] So, like Cara said, they have all the general ed responsibilities and then all of their caseload responsibilities, they're with an uptake of advocates being involved, claiming students are getting what they needed, and which is requiring even more documentations. So, the special educator has to wear so many hats. They're the liaison with parents, administrators, community mental health to make sure the kids get what they need outside of the school setting that they're their extra time is often used up for lack of a better, they have to spend a lot of their time making sure students receive everything they're entitled to in order to receive FAPE to keep the district out of any kind of complaint situation. This leaves very little time for them to just hang out, if you will, which affects the culture that they have. They're often not invited into committees, invited into social settings, invited to go to lunch sometimes because they just don't have time to do that. I mean, you work through your lunch hour, not that other teachers don't, but a lot of times they're just trying to meet all the requirements that they have to do. It becomes overwhelming and they feel very isolated. They feel very isolated in the sense that they're not included in that. So, it's this vicious circle of I'm not included, but I don't have time to be included, and that all affects the way they feel in the culture of the building.
- [Sarah] Yeah, that's interesting. And something you wouldn't really think about is just a simple thing like having the time to go out to lunch with colleagues or engage with them on a more personal and fun level to where it's not just work all day long and how that can affect the culture of a profession as well. Okay, so we have a list of problems occurring in the education field. How do we turn things around? Chris, why don't you start us out?
- [Chris] Sure, I think it's really important that we end this on some sort of solution-oriented So, I mean, we've been talking a lot about how hard it is, but I think that we have some real potential here to turn things around, but it's gonna take work. I mean, I think all of us would agree that this is not going to fix itself. And so, one of the things we've been doing at Oakland Schools, as we've talked about before, for a number of years, is with the new teacher induction program, I think the primary thing that we help new teachers with is we network them with other new teachers, right? We help them feel a sense of belonging, a sense of community to other professionals. In general, people that are networked together get better together. And so, that, I think is the primary value add that we have in the program. The secondary one, which is a more compliance-driven, it goes back to this 90 new teacher hours, we help provide the 90 new teacher hours for these new teachers. We do that through quarterly meetings. And we also do that through curated list of online professional learning opportunities. Also, this year for the first time, we're providing some summer opportunities, some book clubs. We're gonna be reading "Cultivating Genius" by Goldie Muhammad with our new teachers. And also, we're gonna be doing a drop-in on some special summer work that teachers are doing with students, the Oakland Youth Innovation Lab. We're gonna have our new teachers come in and observe some of the displays and some of the projects presentations that students have, in hopes that it will spark their imagination in terms of what they can do with their own students. So, lots of opportunities for new teacher hours, and opportunities we think will be helpful and will further contribute to that networking. I think also it's really important to consider our role as advocates for teachers. At the ISD, we have a really unique opportunity to advocate both up at the state level and down, that's not a negative term, but down to the districts, right, in terms of our organizational level. That's why we're sort of an intermediate school district, right? We're between the state and the districts. And so, I think at the state level, we can advocate with the state department of education, but I also think that there's a really important role for ISDs to advocate with our state legislature. A lot of the things that we've been talking about today, frankly, come from the state legislature and come from people that have little to no experience in the field of education. And I think what we need to do is take seriously our role in advocating with our elected officials. I'm not suggesting that we advocate for one particular political party or the other. What I am suggesting is that it is in the interest of all Michiganders to advocate for certain policies that benefit teachers, because my opinion is that when you work for teachers, 99.9% of the time, you're working for students as well. And so, I think there's a role in terms of advocating for specific policies with the legislature, but there's also a role in helping districts come together and work together. In Oakland County, we have 28 public school districts and a number of post-school academies. A lot of times, it's easier and better to do things at scale. And that's really what we specialize in. And so, the new teacher induction program is an example of that. We help provide these hours at scale for our districts, and that's our role as a service agency. So I think that we sort of work middle out at the ISD and there are different kinds of things we're gonna have to pay for. And lastly, I wanna say, I think in our local communities, it's really important that we advocate as citizens with our school boards. A lot of times, I watched our school board in my hometown work tirelessly for hours and hours at school board meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, sometimes school board members are still disconnected from the reality of teaching and teachers at the ground level. And so, it's important to remind them about those realities as Karen and Cara were talking about, and to advocate for policies at the, really the ground local level that are going to affect teachers in a positive way and make them want to come back, not just to your own home district, but to districts throughout the state.
- [Sarah] Great, thank you for that insight, Chris. Karen, do you have any suggestions?
- [Karen] So, yeah, but I guess I thought about this from more of a practical standpoint and more of a hands-on standpoint regarding special education, but really, it could be for all educators, is I think the mentor, mentee program is huge for all educators. And I think in the special education world, to have a special educator mentor to help with the IDEA rules, what you need, all the paperwork, all the requirements and everything in that sense of it but also to assign a special educator a general educator mentor to help them with the building. What's recess like, when's lunch, what's all of that? I think that will help go for a long way to keep students or keep teachers involved in the culture and help them feel like they're part of everything. I think administrators, I think it's really important that administrators and principals don't underestimate their influence on teachers general or special educators. I think making an extra effort to include, especially special educators on building committees and school activities, 'cause again, they get really busy and they're not always there to volunteer. I think creating professional learning communities with the special educator in mind and helping general educators join that professional learning community will increase dialogue between those and help the people all feel part of the culture. I think sponsoring some training for the building or for even the district regarding how to teach diverse learners as well as training on how to help with specific behaviors, how to help with student behaviors controlling or avoiding student behaviors, I think, globally helps special educators and general educators feel part of the community as well. I think promoting time for general and special educators to meet, to collaborate, just to talk to each other, giving them time, you kind of hear the theme is time, time and money 'cause everything is money, time and money for that. I think giving some kind of extra support to the special educator when it comes to all their clerical duties, maybe they don't have to be done by this, but maybe there can be somebody else to do that, might help with their feeling of wanting to stay in a building, and then providing professional learning opportunities. I know that we have a lot of, we actually just published our special education professional learning catalog that we tie with the general ed professional learning catalog for the upcoming school year, because, again, everybody's welcome to take everything. And I think the more that principals or administrators can allow special educators and general educators to grow and learn in their areas, helps people stay in the field. And then this is just a way outside of the box thought that way back in the olden days, when I was in school, I spent my junior and senior year going to the elementary to help tutor. And that solidified the fact that I wanted to be a teacher. I was helping students back then. I knew what it was. So maybe re-establishing the future teacher programs, giving some students some time to see what a great field it could be. So, those are my thoughts on how to help with that.
- [Sarah] Great list, Karen. Carol.
- [Carol] There are so many opportunities, I think, for us to problem solve. I feel a bit frustrated about it. I feel like we, in areas of education, have evolved and we understand more today than ever what our learners need, what our kids need. But I think we continue to stuff our profession in a 19th century model, and that needs to change. Structurally, we've remained the same. And I really believe that as a nation, we say that education is a foundation of our country, yet I don't see us taking or prioritizing education as a nation the way we should. And in order to modernize what we're doing, we really need to prioritize education. And regardless of your race, your social economic status, where you live and grow up, you deserve the same rights and the same opportunities for a high quality education. Much of what we've talked about, the exodus and fewer teachers, if you're in a urban area, it's far more difficult to fill vacancies. If you are in an urban area and have trouble filling vacancies, it's 71% more difficult filling special ed vacancies. So, when we look at modernizing or when we look at problem solving, we have to level the playing field, which goes to policy because of how the state aid works. So we have to look at policy, but we also have to look at what are we delivering to kids? What opportunities are we given based on the 2008 recession and the Michigan Merit Curriculum. A lot of our hands-on classes have gone by the wayside. So, a lot of our elective courses that attract kids, a lot of our woodworking, automotive, anything, electrical, try and hire an HPAC person today. All of those classes that kids are attracted to have been eliminated in a lot of areas. We need to start thinking, as Karen said, outside of the box of maybe we need a traditional education in one area, but maybe we need to give choice to kids in another area and be more flexible in what we expect from kids who have a different desire, other than a four-year college. We make these assumptions when we see college ready that kids can afford college. Today, it's very difficult to do that. We make the assumption that they enjoy being in school. They might enjoy learning, but not in a traditional setting. And we need to go more towards that as education as a whole and work together in this. Much of what I push for when I'm in a school district is to create a school district versus a district of schools. And I feel like across the nation, we're in our districts and we do the same to each other, as Chris was talking about earlier, that why do we operate all the time in these silos of 28 districts in Oakland County instead of really breaking those walls down and sharing each other's successes and sharing each other's facilities, sharing each other's problems, and working together as a whole. You know, I know that's a big shift in thinking, but we need to have way more partnerships. We need to give kids opportunities, like Karen said, tutoring, but why not start working your junior, senior year in partnerships in your community, whether it's in a automotive factory, tool and dye, all of those things that kids could very well be interested in, technology. Why isn't coding a required class in our schools right now? I mean, we need coders like there's no tomorrow. We don't have it as a requirement, but we have other things as a requirement. So modernizing can go in so many different directions from curriculum, to furniture, to facilities, tactile technology, to all these different opportunities we offer kids to keep them engaged in the school day and learning. That takes money, which means we need to rethink policy and prioritize education and how we look at it, and what are we really doing and offering children today in the 2021 year and moving forward. We talk a lot about 21st century education. I still feel like we're operating in a model that is archaic.
- [Chris] Sarah, can I jump in there for just-
- [Sarah] Yeah.
- [Chris] Two seconds?
- [Sarah] Please do.
- [Chris] So one of the things that Carol said, and this might be a little controversial, but I'll go ahead and say it. One of the things that Carol said was this idea of competition among the districts. And I am a transplant from Florida to Michigan. And in Florida districts or counties and counties or districts, so in Hillsborough County, we had like 25 high schools, right? So there was definitely movement between schools in a county, but it was all the same district. And because I hear we have 28 districts in one county, I've been told that years ago, there was some sort of unwritten agreements between districts that they wouldn't allow sort of mid-year transfers between districts, right? Because that would sort of upset the balance. And from what I've been told now is that it's kind of the wild west, right, that districts will gladly take teachers from other neighboring districts without even a call. And that's because each districts has a constituency and each school board has voters that elect them, right? And so, I think what Karen was getting at, and what I really wanna endorse is this idea of moving away from the idea that I'm electing the school board from my district, and these are my kids and my district. No, no, no. All these kids in these neighborhoods that are in our neighborhoods, next to our neighborhoods, to neighborhoods away, these are all our kids. And until we start thinking about the idea that the decisions we make in each district affect the districts next to us and next to them, we're gonna have a hard time solving this problem of churn between districts. It might not solve the problem, it might not address the problem of bringing new teachers into the profession, but certainly, the issue of churn is affected by how districts choose to or choose not to cooperate with one another. And so, I think that's one of the things that maybe Carol was kind of hinting at, but I wanna make really explicit, is that we have to rethink the way we interact with one another in terms of district to district.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, thanks both of you for that insight about sort of revamping how education is done nowadays. Cara.
- [Cara] I'm listening to all of this, and I'm a classroom teacher, that's all I've ever been for 22 years. I never had any desire to go into administration or anything like that, but I get to sometimes work with my administrators on projects. And part of that is because I was selected as a teacher of the year, and it didn't really seem fair to me that I got to be on committees and maybe have my voice heard just because of this label. And I really think that more teachers need to be at the table. And Karen touched on it earlier. We also need our special educators at tables where big conversations are happening. And it doesn't mean that the teachers always know the best way to do something or the district should always listen to their suggestions, but we need to be treated like experts. So, to have educators of all kinds in discussions, on committees, doing work, giving input, being part of the research into a new strategy, or a new curriculum, or whatever it happens to be is so important to make people feel connected to their profession and then to their district or their building. And if you can't help people feel connected to where they are and what they're doing, they're not gonna stay, or they might stay but they're just in their room with their door closed and they never do anything to build community or culture. And that's the problem, is that a school, and I don't really like to think of work as family, but a school is a type of a family. And if everybody at the building doesn't really know each other, or like each other, or they're not listened to, then you don't have anything even close to a family. You don't even have a team. You just have a bunch of separate people working separately. And that doesn't work for a school. That can't be how a school is. And along with that too, I think that this villainization of unions, right, that unions are somehow separate from the teachers and from the workers is destroying a lot of morale, because I'm a member of my union, I do leadership things with them. I have enjoyed it. I have learned so much, but I'm also a full-time teacher, and I love students, and I work extra hours all the time. They're not separate, you know? My district does a really nice job of it. And I know a lot of districts do, but some don't. They just need to work with their union leadership too, and recognize that the leaders in their unions, if they have one, right, I know not all districts and not all teachers are unionized. I know that, but if you have one, that should be a source of connection building, and that should be a source of expertise, not something contentious. So when you bring people to the table, it doesn't always have to be a union leadership by any means. You need to have lots of voices. I just think that we don't have to separate those and teachers don't have to be an afterthought. We can be a part of any conversation that has to do with kids, because at the end of the day, a teacher's working conditions are a student's learning conditions. That's all there is to it. What we do in the classroom affects kids every single day, every hour of the day.
- [Sarah] Excellent point there. These are all amazing suggestions, so thank you to everyone for sharing your ideas. And I really hope that some of these start to come to fruition. Cara, you were the Michigan teacher of the year last year. So obviously, you are well sought after for other jobs, not just teaching, but I'm sure on the administrative side as well, but you're specifically choosing to remain a teacher. Please tell us about a recent experience you had that helped reaffirm your decision.
- [Cara] And I'm glad Chris is here 'cause he knows this one. So I had applied for a position and I was excited about the idea of doing something that was more of helping teachers, a consultant position instead of being in the classroom. "It's been 22 years," I thought, "Hey, maybe I'll try it." And I had so much fun during the interview. And then it started to inch towards maybe, oh, they might actually want me to do this job. That's kind of interesting. And I was feeling very valued, but then I got a little nervous about, do I really wanna leave? And it was that exact day. One of the things I do for my school is I help place student teachers in my school through Oakland University. And so, that was the day the student teachers were coming to meet with us. And we let them come in person, everyone wearing their masks. And we met in the media center with these five, bright, shiny, energetic young people who were just equal parts terrified and excited. And I'm sitting there and I'm listening to them. And I just had this moment, like, "I can't leave." Like, they're gonna be here next year. One of them is gonna be placed with me. I don't wanna go anywhere. I need to stay. And it was just kind of a reminder that I do love what I do. I love teaching teachers and I love teaching kids. And so, just, it didn't feel right to leave yet. I don't know. Maybe in another year or two, I'm not sure. I don't know how many more years I'm gonna stay in the classroom, but it was a good reminder for me that if I want this profession to survive, if I want it to thrive, if I wanna make some of those changes that Carol had talked about, and Karen had talked about, that I have to be here for them. It feels like I need to be right here in the thick of it to make sure that we survive and that our kids get everything that they deserve from us. And that we create more teachers. That's what we need to do.
- [Sarah] Well, one thing is certain, your students in your school district are very, very lucky to have you. So, not all hope is lost for education by any means, but obviously, from this discussion, changes are needed. And to all of our listeners, remember, like Chris was saying, advocate for and support your education professionals, whether it's on the local level, with your school district or talking to legislators, all of that helps. And last but not least, thank you, again, to all of you for being on the show. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School District's Communication Services, and it's produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency in Oakland County, Michigan, that offers support services to school personnel, which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis. And you can find this in future episodes of "Educationally Speaking" in our Oakland School's website at oakland.k12.mi.us/podcast and Anchor FM. We hope you'll join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
Race and racism have always been hot button issues in our society, but recent events have really seemed to push these topics to the forefront of everyone’s mind, including our youth.
Discussing the topics of race and racism can be complicated, but it is always necessary. So how does a parent properly and effectively begin and continue this discussion with their child or children?
Dr. Jay Marks, Oakland Schools’ Diversity and Equity Consultant
Dr. Ashelin Currie, Oakland Schools’ Literacy Consultant
Jianna Taylor, English Language Arts, Multi-tiered Systems of Support and School Improvement Coordinator for k-12 in West Bloomfield School District
Sonja James, Principal at Sheiko Elementary School In West Bloomfield School District
Both are also co-chairs of West Bloomfield School District’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion committee
Dr. Jay Marks and Dr. Ashelin Currie Powerpoint Presentation on How to Talk to Your Kids about Race, Racism and Anti-racism
The Talk Video
Freedom Reads: Anti-Bias Book Talk
Culturally Responsive Sustaining Curriculum ScoreCard
Toddler - 7 years
All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Kate Kissinger
A is For All the Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book by Anna Forgerson Hindley
8 years old and up
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness: Anastasia Higginbotham
This is You Brain on Stereotypes: How Science is Tackling Unconscious Bias by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
The Talk by Wade and Cheryl Hudson
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices by Wade and Cheryl Hudson
12 years old and up
The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
- Hello, welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education that affects students, parents, teachers and administrators. Race and racism have always been hot button issues in our society. But recent events have really seemed to push these topics to the forefront of everyone's mind including our youth. Discussing the topics of race and racism can be complicated, but it is always necessary. So how does a parent properly and effectively begin and continue this discussion with their child or children. Here to give us some pointers on navigating these important discussions is Dr. Jay Marks, Oakland Schools' Diversity and Equity consultant. Dr. Ashelin Currie, Oakland Schools' Literacy consultant. And today we have the pleasure of having two representatives from our local West Bloomfield School District. Jianna Taylor is the English Language Arts, Multi-tiered Systems of Support and School Improvement coordinator for K-12 in the district. And Sonja James is the principal at Sheiko Elementary. Well, they're also co-chairs of West Bloomfield School District's Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee. Thank you all for being here.
- Thank you for having us, Sarah.
- And thank you Sarah for the invitation.
- Yes, thanks Sarah, Sonja and I are really excited to be on the show today.
- Absolutely, we're looking forward to have a great conversation.
- So happy to have all of you here. So I must confess a couple of months ago some information came across my desk about a program that Jay and Ashelin had put together for Oakland Schools that discussed how to talk to your kids about race racism and anti-racism. And as the mother of a two and five-year-old this immediately caught my attention because it's a conversation I've been interested in starting with my sons but I wasn't sure if they were old enough yet, which I have since learned that they are, but either way, when I saw it I thought this would be a great podcast discussion. So I appreciate all of you making yourselves available to talk about this important topic. And Jay, we can begin with you. Can you start us off by discussing, just in general terms why it's important to talk about race racism and anti-racism with your children. And also at what age are you able to begin doing this?
- Thank you Sarah for that question. And I wanna start off when just provide a context, you know when engaging in this work and these conversations I operate from the premise that our system in this country and the institutions within the systems were built to be inequitable. They were built on a frame and the ideologies of racism and white supremacy. And I don't know how we were as a society and as a community without acknowledging the truth behind the creation of this nation, which is quite frankly manifest itself in what we're seeing play out in our society today with the most recent murder of Daunte Wright but not just in the criminal justice system but in other systems as well, such as our schools which we're here to talk about today our healthcare system and our government. So I don't believe that our society is broken. I believe that it's functioning perfectly based on this or original design is doing exactly what it was designed to do and that has to be inequitable and unjust. So I think that is important for us to have these conversations because we have to educate ourselves. We can't afford to live in this perpetual state of excessive ignorance on issues that are constantly impacting our humanity. And yes, racism impacts our collective humanity, all of us. So we can't afford to sit by and be complicit when we seethe forces of racism how they are impacting our collective humanity, our children human beings begin to notice human variation as early as three months old, right, as early as three months old. So I believe that we can start talking to our children about race and racial diversity and skin color diversity as early as we start teaching them about difference. If you think about around somewhere around 12 months old or so we started teaching children differences and matter of fact, we buy toys and games and such to do that, so we teach them about different colors. You teach them about different numbers, shapes, sizes different textures, different types of food. But do we do that with human beings? Do we talk about the differences in human variation? That's a perfect opportunity begin to talk about the differences in human variation height by the type we talk about gender, gender identity, right, but we can also talk about race and skin color, right and when we normalize race as a difference Roberto Chen'e calls it difference as difference. When we normalize race as a difference it just becomes a part of the conversation that we're having with our children as we're teaching them about differences anyway, right? 'Cause if you think about how early that happens, it happens early on, but as early as three months old, the research is showing us that children and human beings begin to recognize diversity and difference, right? And so, as early as that as early as that 12 months when we starting to teach them about difference we could begin to have these conversations. We could also begin to have these conversations with our children as early as we start having conversations about fairness with them, right? We teach our children about what's fair and what's not. We could talk about the treatment of people historically because of the differences, right? And whether those differences be racial whether those difference be relative related to their religion, rather as relative to their gender their sexual orientation, their social economic status. But we could talk about the treatment of people and being fair, right. And kid, we talk about that or I think we teach those things to our children at early ages as well. That's a perfect opportunity to talk about the mistreatment of people, right, because of the color of their skin and how that has happened in this country and how we've kind of inherited it, right? Because we don't want students necessarily to feel a sense that this is something that they've created in the past. We've inherited it, that's why I provided that context early in terms of the creation of this country. However, we can talk to them about the obligation that we have, right. To do something about it and not to perpetuate racism and other acts of hatred bigotry, right. So, yeah, I'll leave that there in terms of how early and how old we should begin having these conversations. One last thing I'll add to that too, is children will come to us at certain age is when they notice differences and when it's playing out and impacting them in their lives whether it's in school, whether it's in the playground whether it's in the extracurricular activity or sport that they're involved in when they come to us with questions, we shall honestly answer these questions, right? I mean, keep it on their level. We don't have to go so deep and give them, you know a history lesson necessarily but to answer their questions honestly and frankly, right. On their level, typically our children have simple questions, right. And we can provide simple answers to those questions just to meet them where they are and so that's as early as I would suggest and recommend that we started talking about it. As early as we talk about difference.
- All right, good to know and Jay in a sense though the conversation with your child begins before you even bring them into it, right. So what are some things parents should know about themselves before starting this discussion with their child?
- Well, one, you have to know something about your own racialized experiences that provide a context for how you view the world and see race in the first place. So you have to know something about your own racial identity development is what we call it, but really just about your own racial awareness your own racial consciousness in terms of how has race impacted your life, right. I think that would be helpful. I think that parents should also know what biases prejudices, stereotypes and negative dispositions that they possess about people who are different than them particularly as relates to race they need really do a resource that will help with that is to take the implicit association tests, IAT which was developed by researchers out of Harvard University, University of Virginia University of Washington, that has a variety of tests based on a variety various identity groups but there's a skin color and there's one for skin color or skin tone rather and there's another test for race and their families and parents can take those just to begin to discover for themselves. Do they have biases as relates to race and or do they have biases as relates to skin tone. And then once you find that information you can begin to really start unpacking that for yourself because you can't fix what you don't see, right you can't fix what's what you're not aware of that was not in your conscious. So we have to bring these experiences that we've had to our own conscious and then begin to think about how we're going to deal with them ourselves. And Sarah, is this question about what our parents need to know in general or what they need to know about themselves.
- More about themselves
- Yeah, yeah. And so I would, you know, those two things, one, you know their own racial consciousness, their own racial awareness, their own racialized experiences. One of the things I have colleagues do in some of the professional learning experiences that I facilitate is I do two things. One, we have them write a racial autobiography. It really helps people to unpack and discover and learn more about how they've experienced race in their lives how they've come to the conclusions that they've come to as it relates to race and racism in this country, right? It provides that context and that frame of reference for how they see the world as a race to racial identity. But then another thing, excuse, that we do to back that up do some racial identity development work around some racial identity development theories that have been created and it really helps people to unpack and find out their own level of awareness and consciousness as it relates to race, right? And so those are two huge things I think that parents can do before they begin even talking about race, because you wanna talk about race from the context in which it impacts your life. But if you haven't thought deeply about how it's impacting your life, or if you don't even know how it's affecting your life and if you don't even know realize that that it's all around, all of us, right. Is all around of us, if you don't even know that and if you're not even aware of privileges that you may have as it relates to the color of your skin how are you gonna engage in fruitful conversation with your children about this topic.
- Exactly and so once you do some of that work how can you even start the conversation? 'Cause that could be difficult to, you know how do you begin to talk about this topic?
- Going back to what I said earlier we wanna normalize race is a difference, right? And it's a huge difference in this country, right? I mean, you know, when I go back to that context I named earlier when I first started to talk to you it has been with us for centuries in this country in terms of racism, right? But we wanna normalize race as a human variation like we talk about other things. So one is to acknowledge and respect differences with our family, that can help, right? And we talk about the differences in our family as it relates to gender age, sexual orientation, religion all of these ways that people are different than we talk about color of people's skin, right? We can provide opportunities for your children to play and interact with people who have different racial identities and different cultural groups than they are through sports and extracurricular clubs cultural events, family experiences, right? Where that you can provide for your child. I tell people all the time if you live in a community that is racially homogenous, you know, that's your choice to do that. But what other opportunities do you provide for yourself and for your children to engage with people who don't look like you. I always encourage people to take field trips if you will, if you live in a community that's racially homogenous which you know that on the weekends, you tend to go to the grocery store and your family may go out and go to the park when the weather is conducive to do so and you go may go to a museum, you go to lunch do these things in another community. Take one Saturday or Sunday a month when you do these things and take your family to another community where the people who don't look like you. Go grocery shopping, you have lunch. You go to a museum or some type of a you provide some kind of, or to a park, but something in that community, you spend time in that community, right? And that way we're normalizing race when we do that. You look at what's in your household, right? When you look at your household, the magazines and books and pictures that you may have hanging up on your walls. I ask people all the time when the books that are laying around in magazines and they'll use magazines and books have people, human beings featured on them. What is the racial identity of the people featured on the books laying around just leisurely in your household. When you look at the paintings that you have on a wall and the pictures you have up the pages that you have up or the paintings that you have up if they have human beings on them, right? And if those human beings aren't your family what is the racial identity of them? If you're a white identifying family and you have art up in your house and the art has people in it are all the people white what a wonderful opportunity to have some paintings of people and not just of by written by by painted by people of color in your household, right? And so your children are not just gonna see race for the first time when they leave your doors they're gonna come home to a racially rich environment because of the paintings, the books, the magazines, what videos you watch, what television programs do you watch? All of what all of these are ways that we can begin to normalize race in our households and normalize it for our students, I mean, four our normal lives and for our children.
- Yeah, those are great suggestions, I love those. Now for many families of color they often have already had these conversations more because of their necessity. But why is it also important for white identifying families to have these talks.
- Going back to what you said earlier, what we talked about earlier Sarah, and what you've just named, right, it's a necessity for people of color, black, brown and indigenous folks and other BIPOC members of the BIPOC community to have these conversation, right? Our survival depends on that. Again, looking at what is happening with black and brown citizens, right? Who are unarmed yet find themselves murdered at the hands of law enforcement agents in this country right, we have to have our heads on a swivel. I know that as a black man my life depends on me being aware of my environment and my surrounding and who's in it. In households of color, we have to have these conversations. There's a video out that Procter & Gamble produced some years ago, it's called "The Talk" where they illustrate this and it is a beautiful two-minute video that I encourage any of our listeners to watch with your families and it just gives a peak into the lives of households of color and the type of conversations we need to have with our children and family members for their own survival just so they're able to make it home safe. If in fact, they are encountered by racist individuals in society, right? And what I, and I know that our white brothers and sisters don't need often, you know, are stunned by these conversations because they say they acknowledged they don't have to have those conversations. And what a privilege not to have to have these conversations with your own children. But I think my brothers and sisters need to have these conversations as well. One of the burdens of speaking out about racism should not be on the backs of black people and other people of color in this country, right, people of color did not create this system of racism and nor do we benefit from it, right? As a matter of fact, none of us created it, right. We, again, as I mentioned earlier we inherited the system of racism in this country, right? It was created by people who founded this country, right? And they created a system by which now our institutions as I named earlier function within this system of racism and white supremacy, right? So we need more of our white identifying brothers and sisters who benefit right from their skin color, right to show up to show up as allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators with black people and other people of color, right? To eradicate this vicious system of oppression black people and other people of color who've been fighting these institutions of racism and white supremacy for 401 years in this country. And we need our white identifying brothers and sisters to have these conversations as well. But also we it's important that our white parents and going back to the previous question model for their children, how to be an anti-racist model how not to be a bystander, but just do something say something, speak out when they see discrimination when they hear or witness racial discrimination, right? Bias, hatred, racial, and religious insensitive language. Right, we have to look at our actions 'cause we know that as parents, our children are watching us always and all of the time. They see everything and they hear everything, what are we showing them, if you are white identifying are you using your white privilege are you using your privilege to model for your children how you can be an ally to marginalized groups who are oppressed because of the color of their skin, right? Are we modeling anti-racist leadership in our lifestyle? Our kids are watching everything and they hear everything. So we need our white identifying brothers and sisters to get involved, to have to show up as hurt and as much emotional trauma and pain that I personally continue to experience as it relates to witnessing these tragic events that are unfolding in front of us in our society. I was pleased last summer when we looked at all the protests and all of the rallies and all of the marches that we had so many white identifying brothers and sisters, marching, protesting, writing, speaking out and speaking up as co-conspirators in this fight to eradicate racism in this country and that is what's necessary. But it also starts with conversations that we have in the households, because I will also knowledge that many people who are perpetuating these racist acts I wonder what would have happened in their household and I'm making an assumption that their parents did not have these conversations about how to show up as anti-racist and did not and I'm making an assumption that these behaviors weren't modeled for them as children but many of these people were perpetuating these acts. And these individuals within law enforcement agencies were perpetuating these acts if they grew up in households, right. Where parents modeled this behavior how that may have impacted how they see people of color and how they interact with people of color, right. And we know that it was happening in our criminal justice system, is systemic. It is just that, right? So it's not just innovative individual acts but it's supported by what's happening within those systems. Right, which gets back to my earlier point about how this country was created, okay. But it's so, it's critical that our white parents have these conversations with their children to make sure that we're creating a new tradition. We're creating the type of human beings that will protect our humanity moving forward.
- All right well thanks for getting us started Jay. I feel like I could listen to you forever. I'm just hungry for this information but we're gonna come back to you too but I wanna get our other guests on here too. So Ashelin, you're a literacy consultant for Oakland Schools and what some may not realize is that literature actually plays a huge role in helping to frame these important race conversations. Can you give us some literacy suggestions that may touch on some of what Jay has talked about?
- Yes, certainly Sarah I would love to share some titles to get parents and families started with this conversation about race and racism and books are a powerful tool that can provide a rave space to get started in the conversation. I will share a few books to highlight beginning with our earliest readers to our teenagers. Dr. Jay Marks shared with you that at a young age children are already seeing skin color they are naturally curious. So instead of saying, we don't see color we're colorblind, share that we do seek skin color and racial identities. One of the books I would like to share is "All the Colors We Are: The Story of how We Get Our Skin Color" by Katie Kissinger. It really provides a straight for scientific accurate child-friendly explanation of why our skin colors are different. Jay also mentioned about putting people into we put things into categories and one of the ways that we do that is really around skin color and kids are doing this. And one of the books I would like to share is "This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes." It shares that the scientific research and how our brains are wired for bias and this book provides some concrete actions to begin rewiring those brains. My third book, especially for our white families that identify as being white is "Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness" by Anastasia Higginbotham. She is a white author that confronts white supremacy in a picture book, and it begins with a child looking over her parents' shoulders while watching the news about an unarmed black man being killed by police officer. And the last book I would like to share is The Talk by Wade and Cheryl Hudson. This is a collection of talks from about three authors and illustrators that with their kids. And this book takes real moments from their lives or their children's lives and work them into pieces like Tracy Baptist 10, tells the 10 rules she shares with her black son when being pulled over by police. And she, you can just read a piece at night talk with your child about it and these are just great ways to go ahead and get started with this conversation.
- Thank you for that Ashelin. Now, an important piece of this conversation is also what is happening in terms of race and racism discussions at our local school districts. And so I asked Jay who he thought would be a good guest to have on the show and he mentioned that the West Bloomfield School District is doing some amazing things in this realm. So West Bloomfield has become very proactive in ensuring that internally their policies are more equitable as well as externally making sure their students are engaging in age appropriate conversations regarding race. So Sonja, West Bloomfield's effort to engage at students more on this topic really first began in June, 2020 can you discuss what happened then?
- Yes thank you Sarah. First, I'd like to say thank you to Jay for recognizing the work that we're doing here in West Bloomfield and Sarah for inviting us into the podcast. Jianna and I have worked very closely this school year as co-facilitators of our diversity equity and inclusion committee, but going back to the worth that we're doing at the district level, yes the work began in June, but it also comes off of the heels of the protest in March and April off of the heels of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and recognizing that as a district, we have to take a stance in terms of racism and taking a stance to ensure that our students feel safe coming back into school ensuring that our students know that the district stands behind them in terms of ensuring that we will not tolerate racism and we have put some anti-racist policies in place. And out of that came the anti racist resolution. And for that, the board have written up really 11 bulleted points that would serve as our guiding principles in terms of acknowledging if racism does exist or acknowledging if, and when something comes up within the district that may be racist and how do we handle all of these things as a school district. And those 11 points really spoke to our diversity and equity committee, it speaks to our school board, as well as our superintendent thrills down to our classrooms. It drills down to our hiring practices and really I'm gonna just tap on each one of them real quick for you. And one, the first one is to give an opportunity for us as a district to openly discuss and challenge and confront racism and end inequities we had to write an equity statement and that was one of the things that was charged in our resolution is for us as a district to have an equity statement that equity statement was written after the resolution but it also serves as our guiding practices in all that we do so that as we are, as we're looking at those things, we always look through a lens of equity. Next, we also looked at the policy of looking at our, our district policies, do we have in place policies that are systematically racist? What do we do with those things and where we currently have a group looking at some of our district policies to see where those things are in terms of may, which may be racist or things that in terms of a system that we need to do differently. We are also integrate, we are also exploring our classroom libraries and looking at our curriculum and to ensure that our students see themselves in all that we're doing not only in the books that we're reading, looking at the types of writing we're doing just really down and really looking at our curriculum as well. Our board also wants us to develop a partnership with our families in terms of having a family group that feels comfortable having those discussions and help lead the work not only at the board level, but at the family our community level, having that family, those places and spaces for families to have these conversations, we're also looking at our programs, looking at the diversity in our honors, in our AP coursework. We're also looking at honoring our indigenous people and their contributions to our society and looking at our bias in awareness and anti-racist training across our school district. What do our teachers need in order to ensure that maybe some of their own personal biases do not impact the teaching and learning of our students, but also recognizing that those implicit biases that we may all have and how do we handle that as educators and looking at our code of conduct are there any discriminatory languages and attitudes and behaviors that we have there in our code of conduct that may be impacting the number of suspensions or referrals that our students may be getting. We're also want to create a space for our students to be able to speak and confront the biases that may be impacting them in classrooms and lastly looking at the diversity of our teaching and learning staff, looking at our hiring practices, are we doing enough and do we have enough in terms of every student having someone that looks like them in front of them in either classrooms at our administrative level at our board level, do we reflect our community, do we reflect our student population? And if not, what are the things that we need to do to ensure that we begin to reflect our student population. So I think that we've done a really good job and I do applaud our board for moving from this safe space to that brave space and the work that we are continuously putting on in the forefront of our district right now. So that really is the resolution, but it is our guiding practices it's our guiding principles as we move forward, in something that Jay said earlier, you know, as we think about where we are today as a district in where we started in June I think that we've come a long ways but we have so much work to do as a district but we are pointing ourselves in the right direction by acknowledging that it exists and saying that we will do something about it and these are our guiding principles.
- Excellent, do you know why West Bloomfield felt the need to create the anti-racism resolution to start with?
- Well, as I stated before, just thinking about the social protest and social social injustices that really were in the forefront of us last spring and then looking at the diversity of our school district we are almost 50% minority in West Bloomfield. And with that about we're a little over 33 to probably 35% African-American. And then if you look at all of our ethnic groups we are about 50.5% diverse in West Bloomfield. So as a district, we cannot ignore or devalue the students that are in front of us. So we, as a district had to put something in place to recognize and honor our students in the district. And I also want to say that last summer not only did we put the resolution in place but we began the work and we began to roll up our sleeves and do some of the things that we have in our resolution and one of the things that we afforded the opportunity for our students to put their voices out front as well we held a drive in for justice where it was all student driven and the students held a protest where we almost like remember the days of a drive-up movie theater where you couldn't get out of your cars but you had that big screen. We had cars drive up and we had the stage right there right off of Orchard Lake Road. And kids either performed, portray they express themselves and dance, we had guest speakers the chief of police here at West Bloomfield, also spoke. So they wanted to demonstrate and share how they were feeling and that gave our students that platform to really voice to have their voices heard. And I think that that's so important for our students and it gives them that that sense of we hear you and we are allowing you to be heard and we are respecting and honoring that in our students. And we also put together a series and this spun out of the DEI committee and as well as our social emotional learning was we put together a series entitled From Hurt to Healing. In there we ran a series of webinars for parents and we had discussions pretty much like what we're doing here in terms of how to have the conversation with your child about race and how to answer the questions that your children may be having about race or what they are actually seeing play out in front of them. And then that space for families to have those conversations about what does it mean for our household and then how do you handle when you do go back to school race racism and diversity. So I think the district is again we're moving in the right direction we have a long ways to go, but we are headed on that right that.
- All right, excellent. Jianna after, excuse me, after that resolution was passed the district's middle school English language arts department with the support of the diversity equity and inclusion committee decided to bring forward a recommendation to the West Bloomfield Board of Education that all middle school children start reading the book "Stamped" which the board then passed what happened after that?
- Yeah, so I wanna thank Sonja for really setting up the context of the resolution, because that really plays a part in our decision making to have middle school students read the young adult version of "Stamped." There is an adult version which is 500 pages and not appropriate, obviously for kids. But last year, around this time, Jason Reynolds who is one of the most popular young adult authors right now and Ibram X. Kendi wrote a young adult version called "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You" which is what our middle school students are reading. And before I really get into that, quite honestly I think some people thought that our resolution against racism was going to be just this poster that we hung up or words on a paper and so when Sonja talked about doing the work like actually starting that in the summer, and so this is us continuing to do the work and it's a very public facing way of doing the work because we have, you know, around a thousand students in our middle schools who are reading this book and parents know about it and the community knows about it which is very different than some of the things you mentioned earlier Sarah like with our internal policies. So after the board passed the, or recommended that this book be used in the middle school we did start using it and reading it and doing some of those, like you're getting ready to read activities. Not all parents were happy with this decision and we had a small, but very vocal group who are adamantly against us reading this book in the middle of school for a variety of reasons saying essentially that it was inappropriate that students learn the different perspective on our nation's founding and our history. Some of what Jay talked about when he was first starting us off on the discussion but ultimately "Stamped" was picked to be read by our kids for a number of reasons. Over the summer, our middle school and high school English teachers did a curriculum audit of sorts. And Sonja will talk a little bit about that later but they really took a hard look at our curricular materials in ELA, which is English. And they, what they found is that the majority of books are written by white authors and depict white characters and as Ashelin mentioned we want kids to be able to see themselves in the books that we're reading. And if we are in a very diverse district then our books need to reflect that. And so kids need to be able to see themselves but they also need to be able to see into different worlds. And so that's what we're really trying to do with "Stamped" and a variety of other books. But "Stamped" is the one we're talking about today. Additionally, "Stamped" is situated in our middle school balance of power unit and traditionally we had read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in that unit. And while "To Kill a Mockingbird" is considered by many to be an American classic we know that there are some problems with that book that it has white savior tropes the characters of color are very one dimensional and it's written by a white author for a white audience writing about racism. And so that may not be the best text to actually teach kids about racism. I'm not saying people shouldn't read that that maybe they want to read that book on their own but we decided that as a district that was not the route that we wanted to go in talking about racism with our students. And so "Stamped" was a nonfiction book that is written for teens, and that is key. We know how hard it is to get middle schoolers to want to do work to talk about it with their parents, all that and so to have a nonfiction book, that's actually written for teens gets us over some of those hurdles initially because they're actually interested in reading it. It's written in a very conversational tone that kids can relate to. And so this is part of a larger effort that Sonja mentioned in the resolution to look at our curricular materials at all levels, and think about how we can use those to support our anti-racist journey as a district. Because if there, if kids are young enough to experience racism, other kids are old enough to learn about it. We shouldn't say that they're too young or they're that we're like shattering their inner innocence by having them learn about something as a white person I mean, I have the luxury that I only have to learn about racism, I'll never experience it. And that's a privilege that I have, but it just helps me know that I, there are things that I need to learn and do in order to continue on this journey to anti-racism.
- Excellent Jianna and so, like you mentioned there is a lot of, well, not a lot but there was some concerns by a group in the community. So it's kind of interesting, how did West Bloomfield respond to those concerns, I love what you guys ended up doing.
- So because of the concerns and because this was really one of our first really public facing activities towards anti-racism, I guess would be a way to say it. We decided that it would make sense to have a community book study to read the book stamped right along with the middle school students. So we invited all middle school parents to participate in this book study. It was gonna last over five sessions. We actually have the last session tonight we had about 80 people sign up and probably consistently 25 people come to talk and discuss and so we do this over Zoom so that it's accessible to everyone, we do it every Tuesday night for one hour and we talk about the book, "Stamped" using a very structured protocol. Some teachers are actually using this very same protocol with students but what this is doing is it's allowing parents to really practice having these conversations with each other in a place where it's okay if we make mistakes because we most definitely will make mistakes but it's a way to practice prior to having these discussions with students or with our children. And it also allows parents to be reading along with their kids in a lot of ways what we've heard from parents is that this is the first time their middle schooler really wants to talk to them about something that's happening in middle school. Like if any of us have middle school students who know they come home and you ask them what they've done and they say nothing and they walk out of the room. So the, for the first time kids are really wanting to talk about what they're doing in school. They're having conversations on the ride to school on the way home at the dinner table just trying to make sense of their world and the world that they're living in and stamped helps them understand the context for all of these things that are happening right now.
- All right, thank you Jianna for sharing all of that. Sonja, how has feedback from the community been since the start of the book club?
- I would say that the feedback has been really positive for the parents that have been on with us. And I think that, you know we go into breakout rooms within the book talk and then we bring everyone back together, it never feels like that. There is enough time because just as we're getting really deep into the conversations we are whisked back away to the main group, however, from the discussions in conversations with parents it's been really positive feedback and they've been greatly appreciative of having the opportunity to one learn along with their kids, but also be able to share their experiences and for once as a community for the people that are there they are able to have those open conversations. And as a facilitator, I have a luxury really of sitting back and letting them really run the conversations I very seldomly have to interject. Really, it's more just being able to, to just see and really relish in the conversations that the parents are having. I had one grandmother say to us that the summer before she actually purchased the book "Stamped" for her granddaughter and told her you're gonna read this book not knowing that this would be a book she would be reading in middle school. And she thinks that that was the best purchase and this was the best experience for her to have and this is as a grandmother for her to be able to have a conversations with her granddaughter. In the fact that the school is actually having the conversations with the students and the choice of the book, just as Jianna said, yes, we had a group that, you know gave some pushback and I will be honest, have a little was a little nervous at first with the start of the book, the community book talk because you just never know which way it's going to go. However, from the feedback we've been getting it's been very positive and when I say that dialogue and conversation an hour is not enough time but to honor everyone's time it we could go on probably for two or three hours really. But I think that it was a really good decision and we've gotten some really great positive feedback from that.
- Yeah, I mean, I just think it's just such a creative and great idea to have a book club that, you know you have the students reading it, but also a really just a way to involve the parents and get really the whole community involved in the conversation, not just the children.
- Absolutely but we are also asking them, you know, the 20, 25 plus that consistently come what would you like to see happen next? Because we don't wanna just stop right here but what are some of the next steps you would like to see? Is it another book club? What is it that we can do to continue this work and continue these dialogues? Because the stronger we become with our students, the stronger we become as a community. And I think that this right here is just the we're laying a foundation to become a stronger West Bloomfield School District as well as a West Bloomfield community.
- Jay, what do you think of all of this? I think it's awesome.
- I am, you know, richly proud of West Bloomfield. And as our colleagues mentioned, work is not perfect. Jianna mentioned we will make mistakes but we have to be courageous enough to get on this journey and be courageous enough to make the mistakes for the betterment of our humanity, right. And that's what it's about, and some extreme and the work is not perfect anywhere, right? The work's not perfect anywhere talking about human beings we're not perfect. So I'm extremely proud of them for creating a space to do this work internally with their diversity or the equity committee that they have internally. I'm extremely proud of them for their community into this work and provide a venue for parents and students to engage in as learning, because we know that this work has the most traction we're working on a four prong we're working in four areas. We're doing work with staff we're doing work with school leaders, we're doing work with students and we're doing work with families and communities and West Bloomfield has a focused approach in that area. So when they wrote the anti-racist resolution which we knew was in response to the racial injustice that was happening nationally but now they're living into it as Jianna and Sonja talked about, which is the hardest part. I mean, it takes courage to write a resolution in many of our communities, right? And to, and then forward face that resolution into the community, right? Because of pushback and resistance. That's not an easy thing to do, but it's even more difficult to when you begin to live into, and there should be an expectation. We shall hold ourselves accountable for what we put on paper, right. And what we forward face out into the community, such as a resolution. And so the work that they're doing with changing the curriculum, rewriting the curriculum starting with "Stamped" in the middle school as a part of this unit, creating, and then not resist and not giving into the pressures of the community that small minority of the community that was resistant to the book "Stamped" but not resistant to the pain of racism that our black and brown children experience you know, by being, you know, by reading the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" right. Which we know we can, there's tons of studies and even interviews of students who'd been subjecting to reading that book in school and how that has traumatized them, right? And so West Bloomfield stood in the face of that and said, no, this is what we're gonna do could we run a resolution saying this is who we are. And so now we're gonna live into it. And so they stood strong and courageous and bold in that space and some are extremely proud of them. I'm also proud of that they provided a venue, they invited the parents they were inclusive in this process, right they invited the parents and school board members to engage shoulder to shoulder with their own children, excuse me with their own children in reading this book. Right and having these discussions. So they provided that venue. So I can go on and on and on about, but this is, as I told talked to Sonja and Jianna earlier about this this is what we call it doing the work this is it. Even when when you get the push back that's a part of it how do you respond to the pushback, that's a part of it? What, and I'm pleased to know that even could we know book studies are rich but they're not enough what's next. And so I was pleased to hear Sonja begin to have us think about, and to name, having those conversations with parents. Okay, now that we've read this book, now, what for us, right. And to begin to think about that because this is life work, this is life work. And I'm just proud of the leaders in West Bloomfield for doing this work, for their students, for their staff and for their families.
- Yes I agree with everything that you said there, Jay this is just amazing work on behalf of West Bloomfield School District, Sonja you kind of talked a little bit earlier about other things that West Bloomfield has done, not you know, in terms of just the "Stamped" thing you also have implemented a lot of internal and external policies but you mentioned briefly a book audit. Can you talk a little bit more about that? That really caught my attention.
- Yes, when going back to the anti-racist resolution looking at that bulleted point and then drilling back to our curriculum, thinking about the students that are sitting in front of us and the books that we're reading. In our classrooms we have classroom libraries. Do we have texts for students to read that reflects the student population again in our district? And we found that we need to do a better job with that in terms of looking at one, our classroom libraries as well as looking at our libraries our school libraries in general and have the eye center teachers conduct a book audit to ensure that students have an opportunity to check out books that reflect the different diverse groups of students in our buildings. And it's not just to say that I'm looking at so that our African-American kids can have books of other African Americans that they can look at, but for everyone to be able to pick up a book and read about the diverse groups in our district to learn more about each other that's a great place to start. And also our PTOs also put money at least I know at Sheiko Elementary PTO earmarked money for classroom libraries, so that we could enhance the selection of books in our classroom libraries. And we are in the midst of having again the audit with our ice centers and that's gonna take a moment to look through all of the titles and then to see where do we need to, and what books need to go in terms of readability, or even just they're just not usable anymore or what is it we need to do to enhance the quality and the experiences for reading of our diverse learners. And do I, do our books reflect our student population? And if they don't, what do we need to do about it? And I always ask that question what do we need to do about it, what are our next steps? And one of our steps was to have our PTO allocate funds to each classroom to enhance their classroom libraries. And then the next step is to have our eyes center teachers again, go back and tell us what's needed in terms of allocating funds, because not only do we need to do the work, but we also have to put our resources into the proper places as well too. So if money is needed for those books then we need to allocate the funds that would appropriately support the need for additional books.
- And I had never thought about a book on it. I think I first sort of heard of the idea through something I attended for Oakland Schools and doing that actually personally at home with your own children, which Jay sort of alluded to earlier and making sure that everything even in your home sort of represents different races. So Ashelin, what do you think of that idea? Both, you know, as far as West Bloomfield doing that and doing that at your own home.
- Thank you, Sarah. This work of doing a book on it is very necessary and it's vital order for us to have to live into those diverse perspectives. Rudine Sims Bishop talks about those mirrors of windows and sliding doors, it's neat to have those mirrors to affirm their identity. They have those windows to look into another shoes another person's lives and a sliding door as to build and live that experiences to have that empathy. And that's important and I can speak personally from, as an educator going through school from kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade I did not see myself into bus until I was in college. And even though those books were around they were not in my classroom library and they were not in my school library. And it's very necessary that we have these books audits to really take a moment to reflect, but before we can do those book audits and before schools and parents do start doing that work is to first go back to what Jay mentioned earlier is to really take the time to unpack whatever you have in your identities. So you can just be aware of those things and being aware of what biases you bring because if you haven't done that unpack work you're not gonna be able to see what you need to see when you do those book audits. I would like to recommend a resource from NYU Metro and they share about culture response of let me back up, the NYU Metro Center promotes equity in doing book audits, and they will provide like a resource to go ahead and begin this work. And not only in the ELA but also looking at your math, science, and social studies to make sure that you have in those diverse perspectives into those places because you might think it like maths is objective but know who are the mathematicians, who are the scientists that are being representative in the curriculum. So that score card would be a great place to get started.
- Well, that's super interesting. I never thought of math in that way at all. I think a key message for this podcast is not only the importance of conversation around these topics, but also taking action like West Bloomfield public schools did. Jay and you mentioned this earlier obviously there's no greater teacher than to be a role model for your child. So what are some quick call to action some things parents can do to really show the importance of acting on these conversations instead of just talking about them.
- Yeah, thank you, Sarah. Just again, just to summarize some points that have been made already early in our conversation, one first and foremost do your own work, do your own work on yourself for yourself, all equity. I believe that all equity work starts with the person in the mirror, starts with the person in the mirror. And so we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, who are we, how are we, why are we? Right, without judging that don't judge it but really to be reflective, right? We have to educate ourselves on these issues so that we know more. We know what mean, we know what racism means. We know what race means. We know that it's a social construct, right? We know what racism, we know what anti-racism means, right? We know what white supremacy is, right? Where it comes from how it was created in our society how it's been used in our society. So we need to educate ourselves on the history of race and racism and white supremacy in this country. We need to educate ourselves on terminology. We need to educate ourselves how other people are being impacted by these issues, right? And one things I still appreciate about what Jianna said earlier. She says, I had the privilege of only learning about racism and not experiencing it, right? And so that type of thinking, that belief system right there I think is just extremely helpful. As, Ashelin just mentioned for parents unpacking your own biases and stereotypes and this is a journey, it's a life's journey, right? This is a life journey is work that you will be doing for the rest of our lives, right? Reflecting on who we are and thinking about who we are, unpacking our biases and stereotypes that we possess about people. And then working on those things, working to come at them when they show up so that our biases and stereotypes don't cause harm to other human beings so that we're not dehumanizing other human beings based on our unconscious biases that we possess. Another thing for parents, you can do model anti-racism in your life, what actions are you taking right in your own personal space to be a model for your child. You mentioned to Sarah, you know, the very first teacher that children have, ar their parents. What are we teaching our children about racial injustice and about racialized oppression in this country and what actions are we taking right as anti race are we fighting policies within the are we partnering with our schools, beautiful thing about West Bloomfield and other schools as well but particularly West Bloomfield they're exploring ways to create a partnership for parents so parents could get involved, shoulder to shoulder with the district in this work so that parents can really begin to ask questions challenge policies that may be racist in nature, right? That may be racist in nature. Our parents, parents are writers are creative in their own space, are they're using creativity their Kuumba as we say, in Kwanza, Swahili, Kuumba, creativity are they using their Kuumba and their creativity to advocate for the eradication of racial oppression in our society another action that parents could take normalize race in your family, normalize race, do the teaching the diversity human variation, right? Again, we talked earlier about how we teach our children at early ages how to categorize things, food, shapes, sizes, colors, toys people add people to that and begin to talk about human variation, how people just different have open and honest conversations with our children. Answer their questions on their level, right? They don't the smaller ones, they're not asking very complex questions they're asking honest easy questions. Give them the answer to their question right on their level, the older children they're ready to engage in more complex conversations. And what I would say about a parent if you're the parent of a adolescent middle school or a high school child be open to their feedback I find that many of our adolescents, our youth, our children, right? They know a little bit more about these issues than some of their parents because of their life experiences and how small the world is to them because of social media and all the access that they have now that we didn't have years ago. So parents would be open to the conversations and what your students, I mean, what your children bring because they're seeing things they're having experiences that many of us have not. So have those open, honest conversations use books and literature as Ashelin mentioned. What a wonderful way we use books and literature to teach so many things. Why aren't we using books and literature to teach and talk about race racism and anti-racism with our own children. Again so when they walk into the world and they see these things or experience these things for themselves, it's not new they know what this is. They've talked about it they've learned about it from you, their parents, right? And we know that many of our black and brown our black and brown and indigenous children they are definitely experiencing racism from the moment they enter into society. And that socialization, that process of socialization what happens to us when we live in a society, right? That process of socialization being socialized in a racialized society, happens to our children of color our BIPOC children and families immediately, immediately, so we know that they are having these experiences immediately we should be talking about them these experiences with them immediately, as Jianna mentioned and I'll name a couple more things and I'll close, the toys that we buy them, if you have a white child do your children only have white dolls or they have dolls that represents children of color. Do they have dolls that represents heroes and soldiers, right and their humanity, the collective diverse racial humanity of the world, or do all their dolls look like them. What another wonderful way. Again, I mentioned to teach them about racial diversity and have these conversations with them. Art, I mentioned that earlier music, right that is created by right and the genres not just as created by people of color, but also speaks to the lived experiences of people of color, what a wonderful way to use music as a way to have a conversation with our children games that we play with our children videos that we show our children all of that represent non-stereotypical views of diversity and diverse, racially diverse individuals and groups of people, particularly again, and we want to represent all non stereotypical views of people but particularly in this instance, in this conversation as it relates to race, we're gonna make sure that all of these opportunities provide for those conversations in ways to support our own children and learning more about race racism and anti-racism, so I'll close there, thank you for that question, Sarah.
- Yap, thank you Jay. And Ashelin are there any other books specifically for parents that kind of talk about modeling good behavior in this realm for their children?
- Yes, I have a few titles I would like to highlight, as I close out today. One of my new favorite books I've been reading that I just gifted to my niece is "A Is for All the Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book" and this alphabet book workbook really young child into like a healthy racial identity and it tell us about diversity and inclusion, for example, like the F is for fair and it gives you a beautiful illustration of being fair and ask kids families to respond to a question what is one way that you can be fair to others? And like, J is for just how have you stood up for justice? This is like a brilliant book that's begins at an early age building the children's capacity to appreciate themselves and appreciate others. So I would recommend that book for infants to age seven. A book that I would like to raise for our eight year old and up is "We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices" by Wade and Cheryl Hudson. And this is another, an anesthesiology designed to like lift children up, especially children from traditionally marginalized communities. And Jay mentioned about being an ally one of the new favorite books that I notice and read is "The Black Friend" by Frederick Joseph. And it speaks directly to young white people to show them how racism and microaggressions feel, and how they can be anti-racist. And even though it's addressed to white people it shouldn't deter readers of color. That's a lot of affirmation to let them know that they're not alone.
- Thank you Ashelin, you have all provided a lot of resources today but I'm gonna give you one last chance. Is there anything else that any of you wanna share resource wise for this podcast?
- And there are plenty of resources for and even resources for parents in terms of things that they could do particular our white identifying parents and ways that white people can show up as allies accomplices and co-conspirators because again, a huge part of the learning is what our children see. And if they're watching our parents they're watching you as their parents speak up and speak out against racial injustice when you see it, whether it's something you watched on TV or whether you're out in public at a grocery store and you see someone being mistreated or discriminated against because of the color of their skin are taking actions. So we'll have some resources available for you that will get you started on that journey in terms of actions, you can take as an anti-racist parent, right, so that children become anti-racist right by watching what we do.
- All right, well thank you. Thank you, thank you to all of you for being on the show today, discussing race racism and anti-racism with our youth is so critical right now. And I appreciate the unique insight each of you were able to provide for this podcast.
- Sarah, thank you for having us. It was great to be on the show, what an honor and a privilege and a pleasure.
- Thank you, Sarah from West Bloomfield School District, we really appreciate the opportunity and to Jay and Ashelin thank you for continuing to work with us.
- And thank you, Sarah for this opportunity to be on this podcast and sharing what I enjoy talking about the most is books. So thank you and thank you, Sonja and Jianna for the work that you're doing in your school districts. And we looking forward to supporting you in this efforts.
- Thank you.
- This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School District's Communication Services and it's produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hanson. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency in Oakland County Michigan that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost size and quality advantages to those we serve. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis and you can find this and additional episodes of Educationally Speaking on our Oakland Schools website at oakland.k12.mi.us/podcast and Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
Imagine trying to learn when your stomach is speaking louder than your teacher. It is impossible!
Research shows that the simple act of eating school breakfast can dramatically change a child's school learning experience. In this episode, we discuss National School Breakfast Week and how it serves as a reminder that a healthy breakfast ensures students' academic well-being.
Lori Adkins, Oakland Schools' Child Nutrition Consultant and Vice President of the School Nutrition Association
Stephanie Willingham, Assistant Director for the Office of Health and Nutrition Services for the Michigan Department of Education
Bryan VanDorn, Director of Basic Needs Initiatives for United Way for Southeastern Michigan
Katie McConkie, Director of Food Services for Lamphere Schools
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
- [Sarah] Hello, welcome to "Educationally Speaking." My name is Sarah Davis, and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools, and the host of this podcast. The goal of "Educationally Speaking" is to focus on important topics related to education that affects students, parents, teachers and administrators. Imagine trying to learn when your stomach is speaking louder than your teacher. It is impossible. Research shows that the simple act of eating school breakfast can dramatically change a child's school learning experience. Children who eat school breakfast are more likely to reach higher levels of achievement in reading and math and have better concentration and memory, among other advantages. National School Breakfast Week is March 8th through 12th, and it serves as a reminder that a healthy breakfast helps ensure students' academic wellbeing. It also gives our schools a chance to highlight what school lunch programs they have, as well as pay homage to those who help make those programs a success. Here to talk with us about National School Breakfast Week and many other tasty tidbits related to school breakfast, are Lori Adkins, Oakland Schools child nutrition consultant, and also the vice president of the School Nutrition Association. Stephanie Willingham, assistant director for the Office of Health and Nutrition Services for the Michigan Department of Education. Bryan VanDorn, director of Basic Needs Initiatives for United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and Katie McConkie, director of Food Services for Lamphere Schools. This is quite a lineup of guests for this show, and I'm thrilled to have each and every one of you on here. So thank you for joining me.
- [Lori] You're welcome, Sarah, It's great to be here.
- [Sarah] So Lori, we'll start with you. Can you explain to us what National School Breakfast Week is and why it's important for us to celebrate it?
- [Lori] Well, National School Breakfast Week is celebrated every year, the first full week of March, across the United States. It's a time for school districts to increase awareness about the importance of eating breakfast. And during National School Breakfast Week, schools celebrate by decorating our cafeteria and service areas. Sometimes staff will dress up, they try new recipes, and they offer new breakfast menu items for kids to try. And one new recipe that we're promoting this year is called breakfast sushi. This is a banana wrapped in a whole grain tortilla, spread with soy butter and sprinkled with granola. And then it's rolled up and cut it into bite-size sushi pieces. Then this is served with a half a cup of fruit and a carton of milk for a complete breakfast. So just as important as the menu is the service model used for getting breakfast to kids. This is equally important. We know that the more convenient breakfast is, the more likely kids will participate and consume a healthy morning meal at school. So for example, breakfast served in the classroom at an elementary building, and breakfast served at hallway kiosks, and grab-and-go options at high schools and middle schools, those are both service models that really help to improve access and convenience, which leads to higher student participation and more students getting fueled up, ready to learn.
- [Sarah] Okay, and nutrition experts have long given guidance to adults on the importance of eating a healthy breakfast before beginning the day, but it's also extremely important for children to do so. Can you talk a little bit about why that is?
- [Lori] Well, Sarah, the word breakfast literally means to break fast, which means to stop fasting and to start eating. So if kids skip breakfast, that means they've been fasting or they haven't eaten since the night before, which for some kids that could amount to 18 hours or more with no food. So hunger makes things difficult for both kids and adults alike. We know that hunger and learning are mutually exclusive, which means they both can't happen at the same time. Hunger gets in the way of learning every time. So that's why school breakfast programs at school are so important. Especially during these uncertain times, and busy weekday mornings, make it even more of a challenge for a lot of our families to find time for healthy breakfast. And then some kids don't feel hungry when they first get up at school, but then later on in the day those hunger pangs set in. So during National School Breakfast Week, it's a great time to try school breakfast if you haven't done so before. Also know that when breakfast is made accessible and convenient to kids at school, those hungry kids are gonna eat. And research has shown that when hunger is eliminated, students are able to focus and concentrate and learn better in the classroom. And breakfast provides that fuel for learning, as well as it really levels the playing field for equity for all students to work to their potential. Breakfast creates fairness that provides students with the fuel they need to start the day, whether in the classroom at school or the classroom at home.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, and equity is actually something we're gonna talk about a little bit later in this podcast. So thank you for that information, Lori. Stephanie, the state's Summer Food Service Program was just expanded through June 30th, which is great news for our students. Can you explain this program and what it means for our local school districts?
- [Stephanie] Absolutely, thanks for having me on today, Sarah. So the United States Department of Agriculture provided some waivers that gave states the flexibility to allow school districts to provide free meals to all children 18 and under. This includes meals during weekdays and weekends, school breaks and holidays. Many of these waivers were granted at the beginning of the pandemic, and like you mentioned, have been extended through June 30th. It means that school districts can provide nutritious meals free to all students, no matter what mode of learning they are in. Michigan has over 1.4 million students, and every one of them can get free meals right now. There are no eligibility requirements associated with this, no applications to fill out, no income requirements. It literally means all children can take advantage of these free meals. If districts have school buildings with mixed modes of learning or are completely remote, parents and guardians are able to pick up breakfasts and lunches, and most often they can pick up multiple days of meals for their children at one time. In addition, if kids are physically in school buildings, so they're face-to-face learning, students can grab a breakfast to start their day and a lunch to refuel for the afternoon. There is a lot of flexibility given to Food Service on how to provide these meals. And again, like I can't say it enough, the best part of all of this is that the meals are free to all students.
- [Sarah] Yeah, this truly is an amazing program that's going on right now. What other food related programs is the Michigan Department of Education involved in?
- [Stephanie] So we have quite a few different food programs. For today, I'll concentrate on a temporary program that is being rolled out soon, and three permanent programs that are geared toward children, that many children across the state can participate in right now. Our most recent program is called Pandemic EBT. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was approved to provide Pandemic EBT benefits for the current school year. This is a cash benefit put on an EBT card that is to be used for purchasing food. This program is available to a specific group of students that are learning remotely and eligible for free and reduced-price meals. This is one more way for us to reach children that may have barriers picking up meals when they're not in school. Right now, the majority of school districts are providing meals through the Summer Food Service Program, which is known as Meet Up and Eat Up in Michigan. This program typically provides meals during the summer months when school is out and will continue to do so this summer 2021. We also have the Child and Adult Care Food Program that provides meals and snacks to eligible children in childcare centers and daycare homes. It also provides snacks and suppers to children after school programs. So right now, because of these programs, there are children across the state that have access to free breakfast, lunch, snack and supper on a daily basis. And lastly, I think most people are familiar with the traditional National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. So prior to the pandemic, we were working at the Michigan Department of Education. We were working closely with our partners at No Kid Hungry and United Way for Southeastern Michigan on increasing access to and participation in the School Breakfast Program. Michigan did show an increase of 4.2% in the number of free and reduced students eating breakfast last school year, compared to the '18, '19 school year. Our next challenge is how to keep that momentum going. With schools having different modes of delivery, that is helping us with that. Our continued partner collaboration and the Better with Breakfast campaign, in combination with the different ways breakfast is being delivered to kids in schools right now, are really moving us in the direction of more kids having increased access to breakfast.
- [Sarah] All right, excellent. And speaking of the Better with Breakfast Program, that's been hugely successful and is something that Oakland Schools is involved with, Oakland County and United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Bryan, can you provide us with an update on how Better with Breakfast is doing?
- [Bryan] Absolutely, Sarah, and thanks for having me. Three years ago, United Way partnered with Oakland Schools and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, and we set off with a goal to close the gap between students that receive lunch at school and those that receive breakfast. Statewide on average, about 60% of free and reduced-price lunch eaters were also receiving breakfast. And our goal is to bring that figure to at least 70%. In Oakland County, that figure at the time was only 47%. So we targeted nearly 70 school buildings, we offered technical assistance, equipment support, we had a large public relations press release and rollout. And while the pandemic put the brakes on meals being served at school, we have been able to implement this initiative in 40 buildings. Prior to the pandemic, in those 40 buildings, average participation was up by 75%. This equates to an additional 2,500 Oakland County students accessing breakfast each school day. I mentioned that before we began this work Oakland County was serving about 47% of free and reduced-price lunch eaters. We are now serving nearly 65%, five points above the statewide average of 60%. So overall, this pilot has demonstrated that when you make school breakfast more accessible and available to all students, participation goes up. It's also demonstrating that when local governments, school districts and nonprofits work together toward a common goal, we can have a huge impact. We still have a ways to go, and we now have a project with the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to further evaluate the success of this initiative as we continue to explore efforts to expand.
- [Sarah] Excellent, and good luck with that. Bryan, you also recently mentioned that the Michigan Poverty Task Force issued 35 recommendations to the governor and the public, three of which pertain specifically to school breakfast and school meals. What are these three recommendations, and why are they important right now?
- [Bryan] Many of these initiatives are things that we've been fighting for, collectively, for years as ways to improve participation and make sure that more kids are being served with these available programs. One of the recommendations from the Michigan Poverty Task Force recommends that all schools, regardless of free and reduced percentage, offer breakfast. Currently in Michigan, only schools that are above 20% free and reduced must offer breakfast. Another one recommends that all schools above 60% free and reduced offer alternative breakfast models like Breakfast in the Classroom, or Grab & Go Breakfast cards. Currently, there's no such requirement in place, but other states have had successful participation increases with that policy. Finally, the Michigan Poverty Taskforce recommends eliminating the reduced price category in school meals, effectively covering the cost to expand the reach of free meals to more students. Efforts like these will go a long way in supporting more children and families in our state.
- [Sarah] Thank you, Bryan. We wish you success with what you and the United Way continue to do for local students. Katie, you have been food service director with Lamphere Schools for 24 years. I'm sure you've seen a lot in your time in this position. How has Lamphere made breakfast a priority for its students?
- [Katie] Sure, thanks, Sarah, for having me today as well. We know how important breakfast is for students. It gets students nourished and ready to learn. We make breakfast a priority by offering free breakfast every day to every student, including those students who have decided to learn virtually. Lamphere Schools started participating in the Better with Breakfast Program back in the fall of 2018. The impact of the breakfast on our students has been incredible. Before starting Better with Breakfast, we served almost 70,000 breakfast meals a year. The first year, teaming up with United Way, Oakland Schools, and Oakland County, we served almost 154,000 breakfast meals that year. This means more kids are eating breakfast and are ready to learn each morning. We are now in our second year and have already surpassed that number, and we still have four more months of school left. I can't thank United Way, Oakland Schools, and Oakland County enough for helping us achieve this. When we surveyed our parents and teachers about our Better with Breakfast program last year, we received several positive responses. In fact, one mom told me that the mornings are so much easier because she doesn't have to think about what is for breakfast because she knows Lamphere will provide the nutritious breakfast for her children. And because of that, she said her children can sleep a little longer. Also, the school staff response has been extremely positive. With a good breakfast, they have noticed students are much more attentive and engaged during class. Our breakfast program has grown, thanks to Better with Breakfast.
- [Sarah] Thanks, Katie. Those numbers that you mentioned are amazing from, I think, you said 70,000, which is amazing in and of itself, to 150,000 and growing. It's really a testament to the program and how much it's needed. As with everything, the pandemic has brought unique circumstances to local districts when it comes to trying to ensure students are fed. What are some tactics that Lamphere has used this past school year to help overcome these new obstacles?
- [Katie] Sure, we found out on a Friday afternoon that school was suspended to COVID. And that following Monday, we were feeding students curbside. We learned a lot in a short amount of time. And that Monday, we had our food service staff, our superintendent, business manager, human resource director, a few board members, and some teachers getting meals ready for students to pick up on curbside. That's the way it is here at Lamphere. Breakfast and lunch are still available to every student. Now, it just depends on where they're learning. If they're learning in person, then we feed them at school. If they're learning from home, then we have meals available curbside pickup. It's all about meeting the needs of the kids to ensure they are fueled up for learning. Staying in contact with families is important. We have increased our social media presence to inform our school families of pickup dates and times. During the past year, we have had to adapt to so many changes to keep our students safe and our quality of food at high levels. It's been a challenging year, and we know our program is important to kids and families, so that's why we do what we do.
- [Sarah] Amazing work there, Katie. And huge kudos to you and all of the Lamphere School community, and really all of our local districts, and how they had to step up, like you said, on a dime like that, and go from in-person learning, you know, on a Friday, to then worrying about how to provide food to students the following week. I think it's also fair to say that the pandemic has greatly exposed equity problems in terms of overall food access for kids and families. Bryan, why don't you speak to that issue first from United Way's point of view?
- [Bryan] Sure, you know, those of us that are speaking here today have long made the connection between the availability and consistency of school meals and other child nutrition programs to protecting against child food insecurity. The pandemic has elevated the focus and importance of these critical programs as a part of the larger food safety net. As families have grappled with the loss of income or the reduction in hours, it's forced many families to make some tough choices. Families that have relied on school meals as a core support were able to continue getting those meals during the pandemic, but it hasn't been enough. And now some of those same families are standing in growing pantry and food distribution lines. At United Way, we'll continue to support the systems and the organizations that are working to ensure that families don't have to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table.
- [Sarah] Absolutely, and, Stephanie, from the state's perspective?
- [Stephanie] I do agree with everything Bryan had just said. Right now, in the federal child nutrition programs, even though meals are free, we have to remind ourselves that they weren't free prior to the pandemic. And so that is telling, right? It's telling that we need these free meals for kids. And hopefully, we would be able to continue to do this even after the pandemic is over. But with that being said, it is still hard for families and children to actually get some of this food. If kids aren't in school, and parents would like to get meals, you know, they have to travel to pick up meals. So transportation is still a barrier. It can definitely be a barrier for rural households, where sites can be a good distance away. Schools have funding issues, or they have lack of staff or aren't able to hire people, and not many school districts are able to deliver meals to households or use bus routes to get meals to families, which would also help get these nutritious meals to kids. And timing is a factor. So if the pickup time for picking up meals is a small window or happens to be at a time when families are working or it's just not convenient, or they don't have transportation at that moment, they potentially won't be able to pick up these meals. And so all of these things, even though we have free meals, are barriers to access and participation in these programs. And not all kids have access to all of the programs that I talked about earlier. Some programs are only run in certain parts of cities because they're more densely populated, and it's easier for people to get to. And not all school districts can run every program that I talked about earlier. So those are all equity issues that we have with some of our child nutrition programs.
- [Sarah] Right, so great gains have been made, but there's still a lot to focus on.
- [Stephanie] Absolutely.
- [Sarah] Lori, what are the goals of Oakland Schools and the School Nutrition Association, related to equity and food service?
- [Lori] Well, Sarah equity to me means meeting people where they are to get them what they need. So the Child Nutrition Department at Oakland Schools is dedicated to working with all stakeholder groups, United Way, MDE, Oakland County, and our local school districts, to ensure that our school programs have the best resources, training, and support that they need, to provide healthy meals to kids. And this will ensure that every hungry child gets the opportunity to eat breakfast before the school day begins. That's one of my department's overarching goals. Now, the vision of the School Nutrition Association is that every student has access to nutritious meals at schools, ensuring their optimal health and wellbeing. And SNA's mission is to empower and support school nutrition professionals in advancing the accessibility, quality, and integrity of our school meal programs. And SNA does this through their advocacy work and their outstanding professional development programs for their over 50,000 members.
- [Sarah] All right, thank you for that information. Lastly, do any of you have some resources that you would like to share with our audience?
- [Bryan] For anyone in need of food or other resources, we recommend that people call 211, 24 hours a day, get a live operator to assist with any number of different resources that you may be in need of.
- [Stephanie] There are also many open sites across the state, to get free food for children. To find a site closest to you, you can go to www.michigan.gov/MeetUpEatUp. In addition, people can also text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877, and they will also be able to find a site closest to them where they can get free meals.
- [Katie] So, Sarah, we are also an open site, so anyone can go to our website at www.lamphereschools.org and get the dates and times that we are serving.
- [Lori] A county listing of all school food programs that include dates, times, and locations where food is distributed in each district is available on the Oakland Schools website at oakland.k12.mi.us. We've also posted on the website some of our popular National School Breakfast Week recipes for kids to try at home. And for more information on the National School Breakfast Week and National School Breakfast Program, parents can visit the SNA webpage at schoolnutrition.org.
- [Sarah] Okay, great. And all of that will be in our show notes. You each play such an important role in ensuring students are fed and ready to learn. So thank you to each of you for all you do for our students and for being on the show today.
- [Lori] Sarah, thank you so much for having us, it was great to be on the show.
- [Sarah] No problem. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts Communication Services, and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency in Oakland County, Michigan, that offers support services to school personnel, which are better delivered regionally, and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of "Educationally Speaking" on our Oakland School's website at oakland.K12.mi.us/podcast, Anchor FM, and 89.5 WAHS. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
There has not been one person unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Local teachers, parents, and students are no exception. In this episode, we talk about what self-care is and how important it is to implement in our lives as often as we can.
Mary Perfitt-Nelson, Oakland Schools Mental Health Consultant
Dr. Julie McDaniel, Oakland School Safety and Well-Being Consultant
Paula Lightsey, Academic Advisement Supervisor at Southfield Public Schools
Susan Kaiser Greenland with Annaka Harris Mindfulness Games Activity Cards
Breath for Friends Forever
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking Stress Cycle
Michigan Coalition for Mindful Education, MC4ME
The Greater Good Science Center out of Berkeley
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
The Child Mind Institute
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
[ Music ]
>> Hello. Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a Communication Specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. There has not been one person unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And local teachers, parents, and students are no exception. So in this episode, we're going to talk about what self-care is and how important it is to implement in our lives as often as we can. Here to talk with me today about self-care is Mary Perfitt-Nelson, Oakland Schools Mental Health Consultant. Dr. Julie McDaniel, Oakland School Safety and Well-Being Consultant and Paula Lightsey, Academic Advisement Supervisor at Southfield Public Schools. Welcome to all of you.
>> Thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> So first, we're going to start off the conversation today by getting a basic understanding of our stress response system and how it works. Julie, can you talk a little bit about this?
>> Sure. So when we're talking about well-being a lot of times what we will share with people is that we have to name it in order to tame it. And what that means is that when we talk about managing stress it's not about managing the event because the event is coming at us, but we can manage the way that the stress is making an impact on us. And so what I'd like to do just for a few minutes is to talk about how stress makes an impact on us. The first thing to understand is that the brain's most important function is not to think, and a lot of people misunderstood that. The brain's most important function actually is to keep us safe. One way to think about this is simple three questions. So the brain develops from the back all the way to the front of our head. And in the back -- in the deepest part of the brain is the brain stem and that's where our deep memories live and also our senses. In this part of the brain, the brain is constantly asking the question, "Am I safe?" It is like a smoke detector of the brain. And when the brain feels that it's safe and so this is asked every nanosecond, the next question is engaging the limbic system, where our feelings and emotions live. And that question is, do I belong and am I loved? And so the first most important part of the brain is to find that sense of safety. The second is to find that sense of belonging. Safety and belonging and these are felt feelings, this is not about extra locks on the door or vaccinations. This is a feeling of being loved, this is the feeling of being safe. When those two things happen, the brain is open to learning. This is before COVID and after COVID. And so when we think about stress management, the most important priorities are safety and belonging. When the brain senses that it's not safe and that it doesn't belong, it sends a message to the entire body that they need to be on alert. The first thing that we want to do is to run away and if that doesn't work we want to hide and we -- or we want to fight. So this fight-flight mentality continues, the cycle continues until the brain is actually able to find safety again or if the body becomes exhausted. The brain -- when the brain sends a signal to the body there are a number of things that happen to us in stress. Our heart rate and our blood pressure goes up, our digestion becomes inefficient, our pupil size actually increases. All of this stuff is happening without us calling the shots, our brain is making all of this happen. And so when we think about managing the stress, this understanding what's happening inside our body in order to kind of counteract that. This is particularly different -- difficult for children for a number of reasons. But safety and belonging are always our first priority.
>> Right. And you just mentioned, in particular, are hard on children. Can you talk about how, especially during this pandemic, stress has been quite difficult for adolescents?
>> The reason that our children have a harder time during COVID, during any kind of experience and we're experiencing an intense period of stress from a national crisis to the American racial injustice pandemic and COVID-19 is especially difficult on our children. And the reason is that from birth until age 25, the brain is in the most intense period of development. When we are under stress our natural oxytocin that ceases to flow through the body and instead the stress response system sends adrenaline and cortisol through the body. In a still developing brain adrenaline and cortisol is very dangerous. And so when our children are experiencing stress in childhood they're also experiencing neurodevelopment disruption. There's also other reasons that is particularly hard on the kids. One -- four reasons in particular that it's rough is because -- and this is the work of Dan Siegel, by the way, this is a neuroscientist. He says that the adolescent brain -- so again, this is to age 25. There are four characteristics of it. It seeks novelty, it's socially engaging meaning that the only thing that these kids are focused on is connecting with their peers. Not that we let them do all of that, we still remain up in their business. But when kids are focused on being together, the new -- they're emotionally intense, when they say it's the worst day of my life, it is the worst day of their lives. When they say that it's the best day in their lives, we have to honor all of this emotional intensity. And the last thing is that they have this expanded creativity and innovation. And so during something like COVID-19, these four things have been disrupted also. And so there is no -- there's no way for our kids to have these new social connections, it's not just that they're connected with their kids, their friends, their peers, but they also need -- they need new social connections. There's also a loss of ritual during COVID-19, and this is especially difficult on our kids, that there's no measure of their growth. If there's no homecoming and Winterfest or spring musicals or award ceremonies, they have no way to judge how they're growing. They also are really not getting enough acknowledgment and our kids crave that. And so without the award ceremonies, without constant feedback that they get in in-person score, there's a loss there as well. And always, always, always there's a disruption of safety and belonging. But while we're also thinking about giving them the freedom to be themselves and to meet these needs, we also need to know that it's important for us to maintain and establish healthy boundaries during this time. So keeping in mind the brain development phase that they're going through, when we think about safety again it's not about locks on the door or metal detectors or any of that, it's really that feeling of being safe. And when we provide prediction -- predictable routine, schedules, anything that kids know exactly what is expected of them that actually encourages a sense of safety. It also encourages a sense of belonging. And so we want to make sure that we provide as much predictability in this unpredictable environment as possible. We also know that children are concrete thinkers and that when we need to be -- avoid any abstract or big idea pictures of them, we need to give them concrete details and we need to make sure that we're helping them self-manage. They don't really know how to do that. And when we give them these kinds of boundaries and we give them this predictability, it actually helps them understand the impact of their words and actions on other people. And it also helps them -- it gives them a place where they can actually push the limits. We've created this safe place for them to make mistakes and that it's a safety net underneath them. And so while we're trying to meet the needs that they have for this novelty and social engagement we also create and maintain these healthy boundaries so that they're able to be vulnerable within that.
>> Okay. And earlier you mentioned the importance of personal connection which is so difficult right now. How can students personally connect with one another despite the pandemic?
>> I think that one thing that COVID-19 has taught us is that this technology is actually a godsend. And that we have found that places like Zoom or Webex or even Google Classroom, anytime that we can interact with one another and we can see one another it's very important. We actually find safety in one other through eye contact and facial expression and tone of voice. But tone of voice is actually more important I think than we realize that recent research had shown. I worry about some of our kids that are -- that have sensory issues. And so I know that the skin is the largest organ and that when we're able to touch one another there's natural chemicals that are released that actually soothe the body. What do we do at a time that we can't touch one another? Well, research has shown us now that the tone of voice actually can release those same chemicals, it is such a fabulous thing. And so our kids who are not used to talking on the phone, we actually -- this is a time where we are now seeing how kids are calling one another, we need to encourage them to do this. Because when they are seeking to connect with one another, that texting is not going to bring the satisfaction that sense of belonging that a tone of voice will. And so that's one thing that's a blessing of COVID-19 is that it has shown us again that that personal interaction that we have, the tone of voice, the way that we speak to one another is incredibly powerful.
>> Great. Great advice, Julie, thank you so much for that insight. Now on the teachers and parents, Mary, can you talk about compassionate self-care and how it is so important for these two groups?
>> Absolutely. And before we talk actually about compassionate self-care, I need to differentiate between two things, stress, and stressors. So stressors are the things that are happening on the outside, that we are experiencing that are causing stress in the body. And so we know that collectively right now we're all experiencing these stressors that we've never had to experience before. And people are experiencing that in different ways. And so what's stressful for you might not be stressful for me, correct? So we've got all these new stressors that we're trying to manage and they're causing stress in our bodies and we can actually -- we can feel it. I'm sure that everyone in the audience has had moments where they're feeling the stress in their body, maybe their heart's racing, maybe they're feeling sweaty, there's all different ways that it shows itself. But when we think about the stressors we definitely have to deal with them, we have to deal with the things that are happening to us. Many of the things right now are very unpredictable and we have zero control over them, and that truly could be the root of anxiety in many, many people, is not having any control over things. So I think it's vital that we immediately label stressors as either ones that we can control or ones that we can't control because they're two very different things. And so when we know that it's something we can't control it makes it really difficult, we need to label it that. And at that moment when we have a stressor that we can't control rather than feel like a victim we need to look for the good we need to reframe it, we need to reframe difficulties as opportunities for growth. And I think right now many of us during the pandemic have actually done that, like looking for the good, like how am I benefiting from this? How is this making my child stronger? How is this making us more grounded in what matters to us? Things like that, we need to rephrase -- reframe these difficulties as opportunities if we cannot control them. And secondly, the things that we can control we need to really label them as that and do some planful problem solving around them. And so Julie mentioned many things, creating routines are really helpful for things that we can't control. For things that we can control create routines during your day, make sure that you're eating well, make sure that you're taking care of your body. Self-care happens to be one of those things that we actually do have control over and which is why we got to be really, really intentional about it. And it needs to be planned and we need to make it happens. I know right now in my neighborhood I was seeing people I've never seen before walking at night and even mothers with babies walking at night and I would just applaud them. Because I know they were being very intentional about making sure that they moved their body, which is really a part of how we manage the stress in our bodies. So being really aware of what we can or cannot control is the first thing we need to do. And then we -- also and most importantly we have to deal with the stress in our bodies. It's really when we're experiencing something stressful it comes in, we're housing it in our bodies. We need to do something with it. And there's a book that I happened to pawn recently and it's called "Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle." And it was written by twin sisters, Emily and Amelia Nagoski. It is a fabulous book. They actually wrote it before the pandemic, but it's perfect for the pandemic, especially as it relates to compassionate self-care. And so the first quote in that book was really profound, it hit me. And here's what Emily and Amelia said that emotions are tunnels, if you go all the way through you get to the light at the end. And so when we see somebody around us when we see ourselves experiencing stress in the body and having an emotional response to it, it's important that we know that they've got to do something to move to that tunnel and get through that emotion. This is one of the ways that we grow stronger people is by actually sitting in that emotion, working your way through it, and getting to the other side because that brings us down, that gets us to where we're actually able to do more thinking and less feeling. And so I have a couple of tips for getting through that tunnel and I think they're great. There's six of them from the book. And so the first and most important thing to do when you're experiencing emotions from the stress it's to make sure that you move. And we want to remember that stress lives in the body and so you need to speak the body's language. Physical activity of any kind, getting up walking even just going outside for a minute, and walking around the yard, anything like that is really helpful. Because it tells your brain that you successfully survived a threat and you're now safe. So if you're able to get up, meander around the yard or go for a walk or do yoga that means there's no tiger behind you threatening your life, you're safe. And movement actually helps you work through and get rid of the residuals from that stress in your body. The second most important way to intervene and to help you get through is through breathing, deep slow breaths can actually down-regulate the stress response. And I think we'll learn more about that in a few minutes. The third thing is positive social interaction. And so any kind of casual but friendly social interaction it's the first external sign that the world is safe. If I can stop and have a five-minute conversation even if it's over Zoom with my colleagues at work, it is safe, there's no tiger behind me that's going to get me. And so that really is an important thing and you'll actually feel yourself calm down just by establishing that eye contact, by smiling, by having a warm conversation with somebody else even if it's over the computer. The fourth thing is laughter. Laughing together even reminiscing about times that you did, it increases relationship satisfaction. And there's also some evidence that deep belly laughs may have been an ancient evolutionary system that mammals have evolved to make and maintain relationships. It's kind of a bonding, it's like a glue to the relationship. Number five is affection. And so this really is about feeling positive warm feelings toward another person, any kind of a deeper connection with a loving presence with somebody else. And Julie did talk about oxytocin most certainly hugs, kisses, these are actions that really elicit oxytocin and which is the social bonding hormone. You can feel your blood pressure lowered when you engage in these activities, any kind of affection. I wanted to add also that watching a movie a good cry, good tearjerker movie can also help you get through this emotional tunnel. So it's good to cry, get rid of it. That's a great thing and that is really part of affection, crying. And number six, engaging in creative endeavors. And so this is really about any kinds of creative endeavor, sports, the arts, painting, sculpting, knitting, music, yoga, all of these things are creative endeavors. And I know it's pretty interesting if you know any artist they will often tell you like as they're painting that they're working through some of their old issues by engaging in that creative endeavor. And it's very, very, very healing. So these six things are really helpful, if you're with a child or with another person who is experiencing stress may be some anxiety or having a hard time not feeling safe, engaging in these six things can really be helpful. You can also make sure that you're intentionally building these things into your day. I know for myself, even though it's below freezing I make myself go for a 30-minute walk every day whether I want to or not, and most of the time I don't want to, but we have to be intentional, we have to plan it because the payoffs will be huge. We'll sleep better, we will engage with other people better. And we're actually -- it's almost like exercising the part of our brain that helps us be more resilient during difficult things.
>> All right. A lot of great advice there as well. Thank you, Mary. I'll probably take a walk today too, I'm sure my dog will be happy to hear that. Paula, you have actually implemented district and schoolwide mindfulness practices and strategies. Can you tell us why you did that?
>> Yes, I can. Thank you. And thank you, Julie and Mary. Just listening to the history and the science of our bodies and our reaction is great. And I say that because my journey has been organic and it's been about the experience of mindfulness, and so it's great to hear the science. So my journey in starting a schoolwide and districtwide practice has been that for many years I lived the life of building principle. And I always felt that stability was a skill, not an assumption. I also believe that my cup was always half full and not empty. And so during my tenure, I would start the day with a quote ending with the choice is yours or not. And this is before mindfulness became the thing and of course, before COVID-19. And so moving forward I was always a yoga practitioner, always meditated. And I always felt, how can I bring that part of my life into my school life? And so I began to do mindful minute announcements in the morning. So every morning we would pause, the whole entire school would pause, parent, student, staff. And I would read a quote, we would breathe in, breathe out and then we would begin our day. And you could feel that energy in the building. And so I knew that it would -- if it was working in the building, it truly could work outside of the building. And so I began to talk about it, going to a meeting it made sense that, okay, let's stop, pause and breathe. And all of this was happening before COVID. So when COVID happened it only made sense to push it even further. And so for several years in the building, we were able to expose students, staff, we had a consultant come in, she worked with students. And so we began the journey of being a mindful school. Another reason it was pushed further into the district and that is presently COVID. People are suffering, they're stressed out, they don't know what to do at what time, all they know is they have these feelings in their body. And so pausing made sense, why wouldn't you pause? But we don't know how to pause, we just move through our day. And so during staff meetings, we began to pause, create those rituals. Any conversation that I have I'm always saying, "Okay, let's breathe first." And so when you embody the practice, you embody the practice. And so that was a reason for bringing it to the building and pushing it into the district.
>> And so as you sort of alluded to you initiated something called Power of the Pause. Can you tell us how it started and why you started it?
>> And so the Power of the Pause came about in trying to get the message and the practice beyond the people that I was directly connected with. And so when we went out for COVID-19, the thought was, how do you continue to help folks although you can't see them? And so I established the Power of the Pause because what I wanted people to think was always pause. And so it moved to a virtual platform, anyone was welcome. It happens at nine o'clock on Monday mornings and nine o'clock on Wednesday mornings. You come in, it's for 30 minutes and we sit and we meditate. Often it's a guided meditation, but there's always some learning about ACL so something about self-awareness, something about self-management, and we are building community. And there are consistent people that come, some people pop in and so it's called Power of the Pause, the acronym is P.O.P. So you can pop in at any time, you don't have to come every Monday and Wednesday, you come when you can. And so that was how the Power of the Pause was established.
>> Right. And just to be clear too, Power of the Pause is now for the whole community too it's not just something at Southfield Schools, it's been expanded?
>> Yes. I really believe in community. And when Mary was talking about being in the neighborhood and seeing people walk, I just truly believe in community because if we're doing it in Southfield, then why wouldn't we extend that beyond Southfield. And so we're creating a culture, creating a safe environment, where if you just need a moment before you start your day come, sit, learn, experience. And what you experience is calmness, the end result always is, I feel calm, I feel peaceful. And so here is an example of what it's like to just pause. There's an exercise called the four by four by four by four. And you can do it wherever you are. And all you do is plant your feet, sit up straight or stand up straight, and inhale deeply through your nose and you count to four and then you pause and you count to four. And then you exhale deeply through your mouth or your nose and you count to four and then you rest and you count to four. And you do that cycle four times and then you experience the relaxation and the peace that comes over your body. And you can do that anywhere at any time and there are other exercises. Just a mindful appreciation finding five things in your life in your world that you never think of finding those things and then stop and be intentional and appreciate them. And figuring out, where does that come from? What benefit is it? But just being intentional with your focus. And then there's another one I love and kids love this too, is take five. So you put your hand out or you don't have to put your hand out because if you're in an environment where you're around people and sometimes it's embarrassing. And you trace your hand with your finger and you're just there, you're intentional, you're feeling what it feels like, and it's the focus. Mindfulness isn't difficult, it isn't difficult at all. You just have to remember to do it. And most anything that we do can be mindful, any movement. If you stretch your arms out you inhale and you bring them back together you exhale. When you do a chore you inhale and then you exhale. It can be done anywhere. There is a power in a simple thing and it's our breath for those of us that have breath at this time. And I'm always mindful of that with COVID and people that may be struggling with breathing. And so a little bit of breath is a joy. And so I just want folks to be aware that breathing is one of the most basic self-care habits that we can practice and be aware of. And know that if you're not intentional or aware of your breath, just focusing for 21 days on your breath or just acknowledging your breath changes a habit. And Jon Kabat-Zinn whose the founder of mindfulness he has a quote that says, "The little things, the little moments, they aren't little." And that's the way I feel about the gift of breathing.
>> Well, thank you, Paula. Also, you know, just some very, very useful tips here. You guys are all amazing. Do you have any other resources that you can recommend to our listeners? Paula, you want to go first?
>> You know, I have a lot of resources actually. And I'm just going to mention a few of them. But for families and educators, there's a box of mindful game activity cards. And you can use them with adults and kids, and it's by -- it was created by Susan Kaiser Greenland with Annaka Harris. There are 55 fun ways to share mindfulness with kids and teens and adults because breathing is for everyone. And then there's another one -- there's a book, I love this book. It was written by fourth-grade students and the teacher called "Breath for Friends Forever." There are several tips. As you know, the internet is a powerful tool. So there are several resources on the internet, so I just wanted to share those with you.
>> All right. Thanks, Paula. Mary?
>> I think for now this book "Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking Stress Cycle" by Emily and Amelia Nagoski is something that I think almost anyone would benefit from. That's the one resource that I would share right now.
>> Oh and Paula, looks like you have one more. Back to Paula for a minute.
>> And this isn't a shameful hook. There's an organization locally in Michigan called the Michigan Coalition for Mindful Education, MC4ME. And if you Google that dot org, there are many opportunities. There are retreats, there are free opportunities to log on from Monday to Friday for free meditation sessions. So it's a great resource for parents, for student, and the community as a whole.
>> All right. Great. And Julie?
>> Yes. Three websites that I would highly recommend for families, for educators, for even professionals. The Greater Good Science Center out of Berkeley, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and also the Child Mind Institute. All three of those are research and evidence-based and they've been able to translate this research into very practical ways to apply all of this really good research on the impact of stress on the body and how to mediate that.
>> All right. Excellent. So all of those sources or resources I should say will be on our show notes, so for anyone listening they can take a look and dive into those different helpful tools a little bit easier if they want to. Thank you to all of you for being on my show today and discussing the importance of self-care for teachers, students, and parents. Self-care is a hot topic right now and for a good reason. It's easier said than done. But we really need to make taking care of ourselves a priority. And you know, the obvious wealth of knowledge between the three of you is -- it was very exciting to have the three of you on here. So I appreciate it, thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> Thank you so much for having us. Thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> No problem. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School District's Communication Services and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland schools at oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis. And you can find this in future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
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Parents and caregivers are essential partners in supporting learning at home but what does that mean? Experts say the most important thing is to keep a love of learning alive. In an effort to help local parents and caregivers, Oakland Schools District and School Services has started a Partnerships at Home series to assist with these new learning challenges.
Executive Director for Oakland Schools District and School Services Jennifer Gottlieb
Oakland Schools' Science Education Consultant Jessica Ashley
Christin Silagy, Troy School District parent and educator
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello! Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Experts say the most important thing parents and caregivers can do right now in this time where learning has become particularly challenging is to keep a love of learning alive. Parents and caregivers are essential partners in supporting learning at home but what does that mean? In an effort to provide help to local parents and caregivers, Oakland Schools District and School Services has started up Partnerships at Home learning series geared toward navigating these new learning challenges. Here to talk about this series is Executive Director for Oakland Schools District and School Services, Jennifer Gottleib; Oakland Schools' Science Education Consultant, Jessica Ashley; and Christin Silagy, a Troy School District parent and educator who has engaged with the new series. Thanks to all three of you for being here today.
>> Thank you for having us, Sarah.
>> No problem. So, Jennifer, we'll start with you. Can you introduce this New Partnerships at Home series?
>> Sure, Sarah. The heart of the series is about working with parents and caregivers around ways to keep a love of learning alive while engaged in everyday family activities. Things like eating dinner or making a snowman or driving in the car or going for a walk. These sessions are about fostering curiosity and wonder. In order to thrive, people need opportunities to play, reimagine, design, and envision their lives; to live in a place of, of possibility. This series is not about helping your child with homework or about parents being math or science or literacy experts, it's about leveraging the time you have together as a family to be curious together.
>> Very nice and very important right now. Why did Oakland Schools District and School Services decide to launch this series?
>> Well, Sarah, our, our kids are spending more time at home this year than ever before. You know, even as schools return to face-to-face learning environments, that after school socializing piece is really minimized for kids. And there's so many opportunities right now for families to lean into learning and to find that joy and wonder in the world around them.
>> So the sessions already started on December 9th but they continue through April 28th and each one focuses on a different topic that Oakland Schools feels would be helpful to parents. Can you talk about some of the topics that were picked and why those were chosen?
>> So we have a huge variety of topics in this series and, you know, we were really thinking about what would, what would be meaningful to, to parents of children at different ages. So we have sessions about engaging in literacy strategies with our very youngest learners, like that birth to age eight set. We have session, a session on supporting families with helping teenagers thrive in our current context. We have a session coming up where we're going to explore math ideas through games, books, and conversations but not worksheets. And sometimes the topics are really serious. So it may seem tricky to connect the joy we've been talking about to a session on talking with children about race, racism, and antiracism. But kids find joy in purpose and in making a difference in the world and these sessions will support families in doing that.
>> Very, very nice. So it seems like a good variety of topics that almost any parent would find helpful. And the next one we have coming up is, in fact, on February 3rd and it's called Keep 'em Curious; Exploring the Wonder of our World. And it's facilitated by Jessica Ashley who I just introduced and James Emmerling, Instruction and Pedagogy Consultant. Jessica, can you talk a little bit about your session in particular?
>> Absolutely, Sarah. Keep 'em Curious; Exploring the Wonder in our World is a session about cultivating a sense of wonder with our children. Kids of all ages are naturally curious and we like to say that the whole world is a classroom. From the moment children can talk, they begin asking, "Why?" In our session on February 3rd, we'll start by wondering about some puzzling phenomena with the participants like, "Why do we sometimes see the moon during the daytime sky?" and, "How do monarch butterflies navigate 3,000 miles during migration?" These types of puzzling questions that our children ask or that we can ask our children are excellent launchpads into being curious together. After a bit of wondering together, we'll transition into thinking like a scientist and how that can help families figure things out and solve problems. We'll hone in on four important questions that will drive conversations in your family to promote a sense of wonder and scientific thinking. We'll even walk through a teenage example of what to do if your teenager's car won't start one morning. You know, when scientists are doing science, they begin with a question. And parents can promote curiosity and wonder, not by giving children the answers but rather connecting with them and asking some open-ended questions. When parents do this, they empower their children to access their own knowledge, to make sense of their situation, and work towards solving their own problems. We'll offer up some question stems that parents can use with their children when they wonder about something. This session will conclude by providing families with some informal resources for how to engage in our wonder-filled world as a family.
>> That sounds like an amazing session. I know, I have two young boys and there's been, with the, with the at-home learning, there's been a lot of scientific experiments going on. So having some guidance in that, in that realm would be very helpful. When the idea was presented by Oakland Schools District and School Services to start this series, what made you and James apply to hold a session?
>> Well, Sarah, we were so excited for the opportunity to share how important the practice of science is in our everyday lives. Science concepts are all around us. If we choose to look at our situation through that lens, science shapes our everyday lives in so many ways. Anything from playing sports to cooking in the kitchen, and even policy in our world. Even right now in the midst of the pandemic, people are looking for science to solve a global problem. These are all opportunities to have great conversations with our kids. When we provide children with the right scaffolds for systematic thinking and to think like scientists, they see challenges as opportunities and they start by asking questions; seeking advice from credible resources, gather some evidence, and then work towards their desired outcomes. This way of thinking promotes collaboration and innovation and builds resilience. No longer do we need to memorize a bunch of scientific facts; Google is pretty good for that. But rather, children are learning to think like scientists in our everyday classes by exploring puzzling phenomena. And parents and caregivers can utilize thinking like a scientist to keep 'em curious at home.
>> Right. And like we, we mentioned, that parent connection is so important so thank you, Jessica. Christin, you're a mom of two in the Troy School District. How did you learn about the Partnerships at Home series?
>> I came across a flyer, I'm pretty sure it came out through the district. I just know it was in my email box.
>> Okay. And when you read the flyer, what about it caught your eye and made you think, "You know, these are some sessions that would be valuable to me and my family."?
>> Well, looking at the list of them, one of the first ones that I noticed was the one that I attended about home libraries and I have a 10-year-old daughter who doesn't enjoy reading and I'm always looking for ways to engage her more. She's a very strong reader, she just doesn't enjoy it. And then I have a 13-year-old boy who I can't get to put down books and I never seem to have enough. So that one really sparked my interest. And also, I enjoy science and I'm always looking for new activities and things to do with my, my kids at home, so I thought that that would be a, another fun one to check out and try and see if there was ways I could bring that into my house.
>> Yeah, I think I'm going to have to check out that one too. But like you mentioned, you already attended one called The Home Libraries as Mirrors and Windows. So can you talk a little bit about what happened in that session and what you learned from it?
>> Yeah. It was a really great session. We talked and learned a lot about windows and mirrors like it says in the title of the session. And books that are mirrored are the books that your, your children can see themselves in. There's either characters that have characteristics like them or look like them or, you know, are into the same things; creative or art but they're, they're books that show them mirrors of themselves. And then the window books are books where they can learn about others and see through the windows of other cultures or students that live differently from them or like different things from them. So it gave me a lot of things to, to really think about with my kids. They also shared titles of books that you could just, you know, throw in your Amazon cart. So it was kind of like a grab and go, I can do something with it right away. But one of the things that was, I think, the best for us is that they kind of challenged you or talked to you about how to do a library inventory at home, to kind of go through your home library with your kids and see, you know, do we have mirror books? Do we have window books? Do, if we like science, do we have books on the things we like? If there's things we don't know that much about, do we have books that teaches about those? So it was really an interesting activity that the kids and I are starting small and trying to add to our library by doing that inventory and see what's missing that we should probably include.
>> Very neat. I've never thought of home libraries in that way either. Jennifer, say a parent is interested in tuning in to these sessions, what else do they need to know?
>> So basically, the sessions take place on Wednesday evenings from 7:00-7:45 in Zoom. And they're free to attend but registration is required. And you can find out more information, like there's a list of all the sessions and registration information on the Oakland Schools website under, if you look under Parent/Family Events, you can find what you need there.
>> Okay, great! Thanks to each of you for being on the show today and talking about this great new series. Best of luck to you, Jennifer and Jessica. I hope there's a lot of parent engagement in the remaining sessions.
>> And thank you for having us on the show!
>> No problem. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts Communication Services and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager; Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that, that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student, every day.
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We all experienced a change in how education was delivered in 2020. Everyone was impacted -- parents and families, teachers and administrators. The pandemic has left its mark on many industries, and education is no exception. Moving forward, it's likely that certain aspects of education will need to change or adapt. We gathered together some of Oakland County's best education experts to talk about this ground-breaking topic and what we can potentially expect for the future of education.
Oakland Schools' Superintendent Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson
Oakland Schools' Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Michael Yocum
Oakland Schools' Chief Information Officer and Assistant Superintendent for Shared Services Tammy Evans
Dr. Rich Machesky, Superintendent of the Troy School District
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many issues when it comes to education access. Nationwide, there has been an increase in the number of students absent from school and it's not due to illness. This same issue has also been noticed in our state and Oakland County is no exception. More and more children are missing from classrooms and there is a myriad of reasons why.
Carolyn Claerhout, Oakland Schools' Manager of District and Pupil Services
Sara Orris, Oakland Schools' Homeless Services Consultant
Cassandra Baptiste, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning at Oak Park Schools
Oakland Schools Pupil Accounting
Oakland Schools Health and Community Resources
Michigan Department of Education Every Student Matters Toolkit
Michigan Department of Education Mental Health Toolkit
Oak Park Schools
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello. Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many issues when it comes to education access. Nationwide, there has been an increase in the number of students absent from school and it's not due to illness. This same issue has also been noticed in our state and Oakland County is no exception. More and more children are "missing from classrooms" and there is a myriad of reasons why. Here to discuss this topic and some possible solutions for this newest education crisis is Oakland Schools' Manager of District and Pupil Services, Carolyn Claerhout. Oakland Schools' Homeless Services Consultant, Sara Orris. And Cassandra Baptiste, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning at Oak Park Schools. All three of you have been working very hard to tackle this issue, so thank you for being here and lending your expertise.
>> Thank you for having us, Sarah.
>> No problem. So, Carolyn, we'll start with you because you have some numbers and some stats that you want to share with us.
>> Dr. Rice, the state superintendent, released a statement on December 16th that stated 53,000 fewer students enrolled this year than last. He indicated that Michigan's public school population has declined by 13,000 students over the last 10 years. So that explains some of the drop. There are also 13,000 fewer kindergarten children than last year. He believes that's due to parent choice to delay kindergarten during this pandemic school year. In addition, parents of more than 17,000 students told their public school districts upon exiting this year that they were going to homeschool. And that's 14,000 more students moving to homeschool than usual in a usual school year. But Dr. Rice acknowledged that this leaves 13,000 students unaccounted for or missing in our state. We looked at the Oakland County data and there is a drop in county-wide enrollment of over 6,400 students. And in kindergarten, the drop is significant. Around 2,000. So we know in our county, many parents have elected to delay kindergarten. And our county data aligns with the data shared by the state superintendent. We, unfortunately though, have no way to track the students who are homeschooling because there is no registration requirement for homeschoolers. And we have no way of tracking the students who are attending private schools. So it's really difficult to determine where these students are attending. As the state superintendent said in his December 16th memo, finding these missing students has to happen at the local level.
>> Very interesting. And Cassandra, you were on the ground in your district witnessing this issue when it first really began in September. Can you talk a little bit about what your district did initially to try to get a handle on it?
>> Yes. Absolutely. Thanks again for having me, Sarah. And everybody on the call. I'm really happy to be here with you all. I onboarded at Oak Park Schools in July of 2020 and there were already people that were on the ground before I arrived at Oak Park Schools. And so if I were to just backtrack just a little bit, in March of 2020 when the pandemic first hit, there was a lot of work that was being done to even close the divide with technology and what I refer to as techquity. And so, as a district -- the superintendent and everybody in the central office, all the school building principals, teachers -- all came together and collaborated in getting names, addresses, locations, telephone numbers of students and families in order to deliver devices. And so we then, as a district, became aware of, "Wow. You know, we are a school of choice. We have over 100 zip codes that -- of student populations. Like students are coming in from over 100 zip codes through the county. Between Wayne County and also Oakland County. And so getting those resources out to families and being able to accurately reach our families was something that was front and foremost by the time I arrived. And then the things that started happening in September. Getting all of our ancillary staff on board and our teaching staff on board. Even our paraprofessionals to call home and to verify, "Do we actually have the correct name, address, telephone number, email, preferred mode of communication for our students and their families?" And from there, we then realized, you know, attendance is an issue in districts all across the United States before COVID. So what are the things that we can do now, considering the impact that COVID now has and the glaring disparities that it highlights? What can we do as a district to collaborate with one another to help support not only our missing students but also just in general all of the resources that are needed in this time. So we then developed an attendance task force and that was initially the idea of our superintendent, who tapped, you know, me into this as the newly appointed Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. And I thank her for that. The vision that she has of, "It's not just on the teacher. It's not just on the building principal. This is something that the entire district is accountable for." And so where I came in was, "Okay. Well I'm in the process of leveraging relationships and getting to know people. This is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with our building principals, our school secretaries, all ancillary staff to come together to form attendance task forces. Not only within central office but what does it look like at the school building level? So that's really how everything got started for us, which then led to me reaching out to Ms. Carolyn Claerhout and then everybody at Oakland Schools. Where do we get started? Where do we -- we've got all these resources and all of these people and human capital. But what are some of our next steps? And we don't want to be just having an abundance of resources in some areas but then feeling like we don't have enough in other areas. But we do? How do we connect the dots and figure what's the process for truancy? What's the difference, really? How can we get information to our teachers on the difference between chronic absenteeism, truancy? And looking at attendance as -- in this time -- it's really an emergency. It's a crisis. Holistically, what are the things we need to be doing as a district community to promote coming to school? Checking in with our students, calling the families.
>> Absolutely. So, Carolyn, when the districts in Oakland County reached out to Oakland Schools for help -- because Oak Park wasn't the only one -- what did Oakland Schools do?
>> We did identify the potential of students not returning to school this year around the same time that Cassandra said Oak Park realized it was going to be an issue. Which was in the March/April time frame. And so even before the school year started, we were strategically thinking, "What can we do to help districts with school attendance this year?" And one of the first things we did is decided it's not going to be attendance anymore. It's going to be engagement. How are we going to get students engaged in school this year? So one of the first things we did -- as part of a three-day, county-wide conference that Oakland Schools hosted for teaching and learning -- was we presented on student attendance and engagement. And provided strategies for administrators, teachers to get students engaged in school. And this fall, we created a document that said, "You can't take the school year off." Because when we were reaching out to the families that we already had in our truancy referral system, we heard a lot of families say, "Yeah. We're just not going to go to school this year." And so to respond to that, we provided a document that said, "Wow. We still have a mandatory compulsory school law that if you're between the ages of six to 18, you've really got to go to school." So we provided a list of our 28 public schools, a list of our charter schools, a list of cyber schools that were available to our communities, as well as the private schools and how to register as a homeschooler with the state. In addition, we provided community resource lists of community resources for families to use. We knew it was going to be a challenging year and so we wanted to start a resource page. And I know Sara Orris has even more fabulous resources to mention than I do. But in addition, we decided we had to do something more. So we had contacted the MDE, they created an Every Student Matters toolkit, and we also created what we called Operation Student Engagement. We offered to help districts in their effort to locate students who hadn't shown up this year. We did all of this in the fall. We reached out to every district. Many had already taken on that role of contacting their families like Oak Park had done. But we used my ten-person pupil services team to contact these families on behalf of the school district, with the goals of just trying to make sure these students and families are engaged in school. That's why we called it Operation Student Engagement. We had probably called over 600 families in our county to reach out to families to find out what was happening. And now, as we are getting close to halfway through the school year, we are really working on encouraging students to stay the course. Stay engaged in school. And we haven't changed our model. We're still using what we call the three A's. Attendance plus attachment equals achievement. And the best and most effective way to meet these three A's -- attendance, attachment, and achievement -- is to be a caring adult. So we're trying to model caring adults. So when we are reaching out to families and students, we are just trying to listen and understand and encourage them to be engaged in school.
>> And so when you're reaching out to these families, what are you learning about why students are missing school?
>> Yeah. Wow. Well, as you know, we have a variety of challenges out there and students are missing school for a variety of reasons. Cassandra has already mentioned the technology divide or tech equity. I love that word, Cassandra. We also know kindergarten is not mandatory. But wow is it important. But we have parents who have decided not to send their children to kindergarten. And in some ways you can't blame them. But they're saying because of the pandemic, we're not coming until real school returns. We also know some families may have transferred to private schools that were offering the traditional brick-and-mortar option or transferring to already established cyber or virtual schools. And we had districts who tried to offer 100% in-person brick-and-mortar learning but had to switch to virtual because of COVID concerns. And we had families who only wanted the in-person option. And we had families who feared the in-person option. So as a result, many districts -- many districts offered 100% virtual and/or what we called hybrid options or hybrid models. Where you were going to be some days in school, brick-and-mortar, and other days virtual. But as you know, DHHS orders required schools to shut down so virtual became the only option. And I have to tell you, this constant changing, the constant unknowing, added additional stressors to not only our families but our teachers. This year has been challenging. We suspect families and students are finding virtual learning hard and particularly challenging on top of all the other responsibilities and stresses that this pandemic has brought. We have parents who are juggling work and family. We have teachers juggling work and family. So this has been a stress for all of us. Students, teachers, parents, families, and community.
>> Absolutely. So that's sort of the school side, although you touched on the emotional component just now. But Sara, can you talk a little bit more about some of the issues that these families are going through emotionally that may have an impact on whether or not they're sending their children to school?
>> Thank you again for having me, Sarah. You know, Carolyn touched on this briefly and sort of Cassandra about the technology divide and the tech equity divide. And although school districts are doing a great job of providing technology to students and families when we can get it to them, there also then becomes, we've heard, a barrier with being able to utilize that technology. We've heard there are sometimes households where maybe the parent isn't very familiar with technology and they are unable to easily assist their students in getting online and then navigating to the appropriate platforms that the various districts are using. And so that's especially needed if you have younger students who maybe aren't used to using technology. And that can quickly become overwhelming and frustrating to families. And so we've heard at that point sometimes the parents and students are shutting down and not even trying to access and get engaged in school because they have sort of been overwhelmed right from the beginning in trying to utilize that technology. Additionally, many of our low-income families are employed but they are working in jobs that don't have any availability to work from home or any flexibility. And if they don't work, then they're going to be unable to provide anything for their families. So they're leaving their children somewhat unsupervised at times. And they're not able to be sort of hands-on in the home and encouraging them to be online and fully participating and trying to be engaged in learning. So that's becoming a barrier. And then we're, you know, not getting that [inaudible] that Carolyn was talking about. They're not connecting and they're not getting connected with school. And then finally, there are thousands of families in the county that are living in what we call doubled-up situations. So meaning that they're sharing the housing of others because of financial hardship and homelessness. And so this can cause additional stress in general on families and students that are in that sort of living situation from day to day. But it's even more so during the pandemic and during virtual learning because students are reporting it's hard to find quiet spaces in a home where they may be living like two or three families in a household. And there's five or six kids trying to all be in a space in order to do their learning. So all of that is just compiling and providing -- offering more emotional stress on the entire situation.
>> Absolutely. Cassandra, you said you originally reached out to families once you saw students were missing. And you mentioned the task force briefly. But can you talk in a little bit more detail about what the task force does?
>> Absolutely. The attendance task force really came together at the end of October, early November. And one of the first things that we did was establish who would be the members of that task force. So there are school building principals or assistant principals. There are folks who are part of our central office administration. And I wanted to take it a bit further and also include our school secretaries and administrative assistants who oftentimes are the ones who are the touchpoint between teachers, students, families, but maybe aren't a part of administrative meetings. Maybe they're some of the people who run myStar reports. Or people who are part of central office who oversee enrollment should also be a part of this task force. And we meet every other week and we started off with conducting a self-assessment at the district level and then a self-assessment at the school building level. And the team sort of feathers out or umbrellas out even more once it's at the school building level because there are also members who are a part of our multi-tiered system [inaudible]. So our school psychologists, our counselors. And really the point of it is to not only look at data and discuss data and to start making some decisions around what kind of strategies we should be implementing that will have the greatest amount of impact. But even the strategies around how do we do home visits in this virtual landscape? What are some of the best ways that we can have student engagement activities? You know, where it might be out of school hours or before school hours. But there are some students who want tutoring who are reaching out to their teachers. Who -- you know, what are some of the non-traditional ways that we can leverage the attendance task force to increase student engagement? So after we -- after we completed these self-assessments, we also realized there are some community-based organizations that we can tap into. And they are -- we're still in the beginning phases of this. But they eventually will also be a part of our attendance task force as well. Various consultants that are a part of Oakland Schools, different organizations that are in the Southeastern Michigan area. And really, going back to that techquity, like looking at where are we now in regards to our missing students, attendance in general. And just thinking about like as I spoke to earlier, how do we contact our students and families? What's the level of contact that we have? In terms of connectivity, are we ensuring that all students and families have digital access and competency? And so I'm so grateful for Oakland Schools because we have an instructional technology integration specialist who works with us three days a week. And that's Ms. Lauren Marchelletta, who is amazing. Some of the things that she does are screencasts of how do you even log onto your Google Classroom. myStar, the parent end on myStar. Screencasts for families that we can then share at the district level and at the school building level for how do you navigate as a parent your child's attendance information or myStar in general. Part of the attendance task force is also thinking of relationship building. Are we establishing reciprocal relationships with students and families? How are we creating connections and support within our school communities? What kinds of activities do we have going on? And then finally, student participation. What are some of the student participation learning opportunities that we have to increase that engagement? It can be something as simple as today is crazy hat day. Because some of our students, you know, they're there but the screen might be off. How do we then even increase like, "You're here at school. It's so exciting that you're here! Welcome. We're here to support you. How are you? We're checking in with you and we're learning." And I'm grateful for the attendance task force because it at first started off as something in my mind that would be more data-related, but now I see it as something that's community based and grassroots but also very strategic.
>> Yeah. It sounds amazing. I know it's early on, but do you feel like it's been successful? Have you seen some benefits from it?
>> I think some of the benefits have been, you know, a lot of times you're addressing attendance and you could be at the central office or you could be an individual principal dealing with attendance in your school building. And so because there are members that are representing each school, we are all able to come together and look at data and some of the trends from each school community and even some of the tidbits. Something as simple as what are some of the ways in which you are supporting your teachers and engaging in the two-way communication that's now a requirement? What are some of the ways in which you're helping to support your staff with attendance? What are some activities that can take place during advisory? If you have any school cultural events happening, what are some strategies that you use at the elementary level that might also benefit the high school level? Whereas maybe before, we might have been functioning in a silo, we're breaking down some of those silos and coming together in greater collaboration. And it's been really insightful to have that relationship between central office, school buildings, but then ultimately, our multi-tiered system of supports. Our MTSS teams to be able to come together because some of the folks on the attendance task force also serve on our MTSS team. So major gains, I think, have been made. And some underlying strategies that we're going to be implementing with family and community engagement. A lot of that comes out of the attendance task force.
>> So, Carolyn, Oak Park has started this task force. Which maybe that's something other districts would, you know, be interested in creating a model like that. The state has released some toolkits as well. Are there any other resources that you're aware of that districts can use for this new issue?
>> Yes. And we are grateful to Oak Park and we've been sharing data with them. And they have asked us to join their task force and we look forward to working with Oak Park. And we're hoping the Oak Park task force can be a model for some of our other districts in the future of how to engage students. So we're pretty excited to be working with Oak Park on their new task force efforts. Some great websites and toolkits. The best one out there that I strongly recommend is Attendance Works and I know Cassandra mentioned that already. Their website is www.attendanceworks.org. They started as a chronic absenteeism group that went nationwide that basically shared when a student misses 10% of the school year, they have significant learning outcomes. They drop out of school, they can't read by third grade. So they were really shifting the mindset from addressing truancy to addressing all kinds of absences. And when you miss 10% of the school year or 18 days, your education is significantly impacted. And when they rolled that out, we joined them hand in hand in the beginning. We had Hedy Chang here. She is -- six or seven years ago. So chronic absenteeism has been something we've been addressing. But they shifted on a dime and this summer, put our pandemic learning and student engagement models. And they have them in more than one language. So I direct everyone to Attendance Works. In addition, the MDE has really put out some good toolkits. Not only on attendance, but they have a mental health one. I know Sara will talk about that. And you can find those at www.michigan.gov/mde. Or you can email me for local information and what we're doing in our county and that's email@example.com.
>> Thanks, Carolyn. And Sara, from the mental health standpoint, where can our audience find resources?
>> Sure. Thank you. Well, Oakland Schools has been working very hard since the beginning of the pandemic to pull together a variety of resources for both educators and parents to help support the well-being of students and families as a whole. We have basic needs resources, mental health resources, social and emotional learning resources, and much much more. Resources are sorted into various folders by topic and there's also a specific folder with some translated resources as well. We have several resources in both Spanish and Arabic. And we've been continually working to update the folders to make sure that they are updated with most relevant and up-to-date resources available. Folks can find that Google folder at -- if they type bit.ly into their browser. And it will open up our Google document where they will find a direct link to the community resources and many other supports. And I'm always available as well to help connect folks to appropriate resources. And I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
>> Excellent. And all of that information, both what Carolyn provided and what Sara provided -- because I know it's hard to copy down links when you're listening to something -- is in our show notes that you can access through the podcast. So be very easy to just click on those links and take a look at the great resources they've provided. So thank you to each of you for being on the show today and offering insight and solutions to this growing issue in education. We appreciate your ground-level work in trying to ensure all students have access to education.
>> Thank you so much for having us!
>> Thanks for having us!
>> Thank you. What a pleasure. Thanks for having us.
>> No problem. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts Communication Services and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student, every day.
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In Oakland County, we are lucky to have a diverse community where many different nationalities are represented in our schools. However, many of these students need time to adjust to their new surroundings and life experiences after relocating from countries plagued by war, poverty and food insecurity. This podcast will explore ways teachers and the community can support our immigrant students in school.
Wisam Brikho, Oakland Schools' Immigrant Student Consultant
Sally Nalu, Supervisor for the Department of English Language Learners at Southfield Public Schools
Oakland Schools Immigrant & Refugee Services
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
In June of this year, Oakland Schools and the Oakland County Health Division formed a partnership called the Oakland Together School Nurse Initiative. This initiative led to the hiring of 68 nurses who were deployed to all 28 school districts in Oakland County. The nurses are to provide public health strategies and direction to staff and students with the goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Calandra Anderson, Quality and Process Improvement Supervisor, Oakland County Health Division
Cathy Farris, District Nurse, Novi Community School District
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
[ Intro Music ]
>> Hello. Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis, and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Today we're going to talk about a joint partnership between Oakland Schools and the Oakland County Health Division, which was created in June of this year as a response to the public's concern about how to keep students and teachers safe when school resumed. This partnership, dubbed the Oakland Together School Nurse Initiative, led to the hiring of 68 nurses who have been deployed to school districts throughout Oakland County and provide public health strategies and direction to staff and students with the goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Here to talk with us today about this partnership is Calandra Anderson, who has held various nursing positions at local hospitals since 1994. And in 2019, transitioned to working as a public health nurse for the Oakland County Health Division. Today she is the quality and process improvement supervisor at the Oakland County Health Division and acts as manager of the nurses who have been hired under the Oakland Together School Nurse Initiative. Welcome to the show, Calandra.
>> Thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here. This is such an important topic.
>> Awesome. And representing the Novi Community School District, we have Cathy Farris, who has been the district's nurse for 10 years. She is also a region leader for Oakland County nurses and vice president of the Michigan Association of School Nurses. Welcome to the show, Cathy.
>> Thank you for having me. This is a great topic.
>> So Calandra, I know I gave a brief overview of what the Oakland Together School Nurse Initiative program is, but could you go into further detail for our audience?
>> Absolutely. So in July of this year, more towards the end of July, I was asked by the Oakland County Health Division to support the reentry of schools for K-12. And what that really entailed was hiring seasoned nurses within Oakland County and surrounding districts to play a major role in the fight against COVID-19 within the school system. I was very honored to be a part of this program. And we journeyed to find nurses that would be interested in becoming a school nurse very quickly. And so we have talent from all over Oakland County, as well as surrounding districts that are part of our COVID nurse program. We quickly gained momentum in hiring nurses that wanted to add to the support of schools. A lot of our nurses are coming from hospital systems that are working full-time jobs in addition to being a part of our school nurse program. As you can imagine, school nursing has not traditionally been something that Oakland County has done. And we do have district nurses, however, we certainly don't have enough nurses to cover all of our school systems. So this was very important and very impactful for schools. We were able to hire our nurses. And we needed to quickly work with our district nurses who really we are following their direction. They've been out there within the school system, they recognize the challenges that are happening within the school system. Outside of COVID, we still have issues in schools with students who have other health issues, including health problems like diabetes, asthma and allergy, and seizures, just to mention a few of them. So we partnered first with our district nurses to find out how we could support them within their districts. And then we focused a little bit on COVID. All of our nurses were given access to the Michigan Association of School Nurses that was paid for through the grant, the Cares Grant, to get them the foundational information on how to perform as a school nurse. We felt like this was very important, coming from hospital systems and long-term care facilities where they had not been acting in the capacity of a school nurse. So it was very exciting to work with our district nurses to learn a little bit about what it looks like to be a school nurse. And then what we wanted to focus on at the Oakland County Health Department was quickly bringing these nurses up to speed on how to respond to positive cases within the school system, understanding a little bit about the basics of COVID, and how to be great communicators and building trust within the school system, as we move forward to support them in the reentry program.
>> Excellent. So what exactly is the role of the nurse? I think a lot of people sort of envision the nurse as someone who hands out a Band-Aid, you know, if a child has an injury on the playground. But there is so much more to the role that these nurses are playing right now, correct?
>> Absolutely. With the understanding that there have not been nurses in schools traditionally, we really looked at how could we impact schools on a temporary basis. The Cares Grant allowed us to hire nurses to work within the schools on a part-time basis. And the grant goes through December 31. So we thought, what could we do during this short period of time to assist schools and school officials? And with that in mind, we developed a program where the nurses are there to educate the folks that are already designated within the school system to perform various activities that a school nurse would typically perform. So we're looking at policies and procedures. We're looking at viable floor plans and IEP plans, to make sure that it encompasses everything that will keep a student safe in school and to help guide the folks that are already designated to perform those activities in school. We're also acting as communicators. And so we're working between superintendents, we're working between the principals at the building, and all of the frontline staff within the school system to educate them about COVID-19; to show them how to use our website to focus in on the things that are going to be very key to them as students begin to return to the building and as teachers as well are returning to the building. And so again, it is really working on a trusting relationship to provide them the education and the training necessary to respond to positive cases of COVID-19, as well as to respond to students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 while they're in school for the school day.
>> Okay, so once these nurses were assigned to their respective districts, what were the first tasks they were given?
>> Great question. So most of the schools, in September, were not face-to-face, and so we had a great opportunity to do some training before students actually were in the campuses. So our great group of nurses, in conjunction with our district nurses, were able to put together a checklist. And that checklist is mostly a safety checklist, where we're doing walk-throughs at the school campus, to show them, you know, to help them make their decisions and their emergency plans around returning students to school. And what the walkthroughs look like is we're looking at their onboarding and offboarding of students, whether they're coming from the bus or whether they're being dropped off. If they have a good plan for being able to social distancing students as they transition into the school building. We're looking at signage throughout the campus, to make sure they're reminding folks of social distance and the importance of social distancing. As well as the importance of good hand hygiene and is being practiced frequently within the school district. And most importantly, we're focused on compliance with masks and providing recommendations around masks wearing and following those guidelines. We are also taking the opportunity to look at their classrooms and their ability to social distance within the classroom. Use protective barriers like partitions in between students and between teachers. We're looking at their ability to cohort students. Because we know based on the governor's roadmap, as well as CDC recommendations, cohorting students will minimize risk of exposure to additional students in the classroom. It also provides a great way to be able to contact trace when there's a positive case within the school system. We're looking at their lunch periods -- how are they going to do lunch? Through cohorts. We're looking at for recess, you know, are students staggered in? What are the dismissals looking like? Are all students dismissed at the same time, congesting hallways? And providing great recommendations on how to get past some of those things, how to put some best practices into play. The great thing about working with all 28 districts is we have an opportunity to look at what schools are showing best practice in terms of their ability to cohort students, as well as to keep them socially distanced during the school day. Those are some of the things that we're looking at. We're also focusing in on their health screening. The Oakland County Health Department Schools' Guidance does not recommend universal screening. That means all students being screened at the point of entry of schools. We put together on our website for K-12 schools some templates that schools can adopt to assist them with students that need to be screened. And if they choose to screen, we give them great recommendations on how that screening station should be set up, including the proper PPE, barriers, supplies and equipment that will be necessary in order to perform screening upon entry. However, we also recommended and provided templates for schools to be able to adapt. Which is an agreement or an acknowledgment letter that parents would screen their children at home and keep students home that are exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19. With additional recommendations to contact their medical provider to see if testing would be recommended. The one major thing that we are working with schools is their isolation room. And this is the room where children that are exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19 would need to be separated from healthy populations of children until parents can pick them up. And so we're helping them to identify an appropriate room that has a bathroom that is specific to students that may be ill and restricting those areas to those ill students. And what type of PPE is required for the folks that will be monitoring students in that room. We've gone so far as to create guidelines for the isolation room, which includes what supplies will be needed for that room, what type of documentation should be captured when students are brought to that room. And we provided a parent letter that could be sent home identifying what symptoms that student would have and what recommendations we have in order for that student to return to school. So we're really excited about the work that's been done. We've essentially built this program from the ground up. And the nurses, including our district nurses, have been very supportive in putting together clear guidelines and recommendations that are going to support schools as students return to the classroom.
>> That is a lot of moving parts. Very impressive how you have been able to put all this together and in such a short amount of time too. And on top of that, the nurses are helping to educate staff, correct?
>> Absolutely. It's really important to help as much as we can educate and communicate the facts of COVID-19 and the recommendations of the CDC. As you all may be aware, recommendations change over time. So our school nurses are working directly with the front office staff, which is mostly sometimes the secretarial staff that are receiving the calls from parents, concerned parents. And so we are definitely working with them to train them on basic COVID, to dispel any myths that they may have about COVID and really focusing on the prevention measures. Which is the frequent hand washing or hygiene, the ability to social distance, and compliance with masks. And so we've had a very, very warm reception in all 28 of our districts in supporting them. And we continue to answer any questions that they may have. And I think that we have built trust very quickly with the school system, and that's something that we all can be very proud of.
>> Okay, so lets bring in Cathy from Novi to talk a little bit about this. Cathy, you are actually not part of the Oakland Together School Nurse Initiative. As I stated before, you have been a nurse with the Novi Community School District for 10 years. But this is actually very rare because, in Michigan, we're ranked 50th in the United States for the number of nurses in schools. There are actually only about half a dozen in Oakland County alone, and most work part-time. So when you first heard about this new initiative, what were your thoughts?
>> So my initial thoughts were I was a little nervous because I wasn't sure what it was going to look like. And when I was told that they were just going to be here for a short time, it may me even a little bit more skeptical about what could I do with them and how could they be successful and how were we all going to be successful together? But then the very first day they started, I was like, this is awesome. Because they were helpful and knowledgeable and eager to help, you know, getting us in school. And we were in a unique situation because we were one of the only schools in Oakland County that were going back face-to-face. So we are currently a hybrid model and we have virtual. So we're about 52% virtual and 48% hybrid. So right off the bat, I mean, we were starting school the first day of school. And they were so helpful, just helping me navigate -- what do we do? We've got to train staff. We have to get our isolation rooms intact. We have to look at masking. We have to look at lunch. We have to look at recess. And they were on top of everything as quickly as I was on top of it. And so I was so appreciative and so thankful that they were here. I'm going to miss them dearly if they ever leave me. I was really, really happy for the additional help.
>> All right. And Calandra listed a bunch of ways that the nurses are supposed to help out at the district level. What are some key areas that you felt they really helped out at Novi?
>> So initially, we kind of took -- like the first week of school, it became a little overwhelming because we have 10 physical buildings that we have. And so we have five elementaries. We have a middles, which is a fifth and sixth grade, and a middle school and a high school. And plus we have athletics, plus we have preschool. And so it was a little overwhelming to me what were we going to do the first week of school. So being that I have two nurses, we kind of split the district up and were responsible for kind of some buildings, that if they needed immediate assistance, we would be physically in that building at some point of the day. And that was really, really helpful. That if a staff member in the front office can see a person physically, they were much more likely to ask questions and not feel like they had to take time out to call them or email them or do whatever. So that was very, very helpful in splitting the district. But you know, as soon as we got in there, we were recognizing things that we needed to do a little bit better. Like we had to make sure that classrooms were six feet apart. So we were walking around to look at those things. Looking at kids' masks and making sure that they were the appropriate masks to be in school. Some other things were the training. You know, we would have trainings almost every morning for staff and staff meetings, and they were able to ask questions. And with three of us on a panel, there was a lot of knowledge given to that panel. Because some of the questions I didn't know -- if it was, you know, some recommendations from Oakland County, we would kind of learn that together. And so having them there and being the advocate for Oakland County Heath Division was a godsend. Because they knew sometimes those rules were -- I didn't know those rules and facts 100% like they did. So that was really, really helpful.
>> Right. Or you would've had to take time to contact them probably and write that out, versus just having that expert right there standing right next to you to have the answers.
>> Correct. And it was nice that they would have the contact at Oakland County that -- because, unfortunately, we had some positive cases and then we would have to report. And they were kind of that middleman of, you know, okay, where is the report sheet that we have to do? We just had to find that together. So it was really, really helpful to have just kind of a team. And our personalities are really great together and so we're having a lot of fun doing it too, so that's been very helpful. But I've been very, very thankful for this program.
>> Awesome. So, Calandra, have the nurses been reporting back on what areas they are most commonly being asked for guidance on?
>> Yes. So I think the biggest issue that schools are really struggling with is cohorting students and trying to meet the six feet mandate. We recognize that schools are all different sizes and shapes. Some schools are larger and doing a very job with the six feet distancing within the classroom. But that's not the case with all schools across the districts. And in the event that a school is not able to get six feet within the classroom, we are providing recommendations more so focused on the ability to cohort, the importance of keeping seating charts. Because if any student tests positive, we'll have a great way of being able to do our contact tracing and identifying students that were within six feet for 15 minutes or greater of a positive student. And so I think that that is probably the major concern across most of the districts is, if you cannot maintain six feet, what recommendations does the Oakland County Health Department and the school nurse program have in order to keep them safe in the classroom? That seems to be one of the biggest concerns. The second concern is around symptoms. And we know flu is on the rise and flu mirrors a lot of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. And how do you determine whether or not a student has the flu or if a student is actually positive with COVID-19? And so we are providing recommendations. We're working with the recommendations through the American Academy of Pediatrics and our epidemiology world. We know that the CDC will continue to provide guidance as flu season is upon us. And we're recommending, of course, that students still receive flu shots this year to keep them safe from contracting the flu. But we're also recommending that parents keep students that are ill at home. One of the things that we wanted to do with this challenge, the Oakland County Health Department has partnered with Beaumont Health System. And they've created a referral line. And what that means is that parents, between the hours of 5 AM and 8 AM, can call this line and speak to a live person -- a health professional -- and ask those questions that they would be asking at the school level. My child woke up with a specific symptom and I'm not sure if this is a symptom of COVID-19 and I'm unsure of whether or not I should send my kid to school. The folks at Beaumont are answering these calls and they're providing recommendations to parents that is consistent with the guidance that is being given by the Oakland County Health Department. And I can tell you, we just started this on Monday, and we're getting some great questions from parents across multiple districts. And we're providing the guidance to keep unhealthy kids home and not put them into the healthy population of kids that are returning to school. So I would say that answering questions about symptomology and whether or not a kid should return to school or come to school on that day, we're capturing some of that. And I hope to see more momentum with parents as we get this information out that they have this avenue. And we use 5 AM to 8 AM because this is the time that a lot of parents are getting up in the morning, getting themselves ready for work, and also getting their children ready for the school day. So we felt like this was a great time to have this line open. However, after 8 AM, we do have nurse on call at the Oakland County Health Department, and parents can call our nurse on call -- and they're there Monday through Friday and for some hours on Saturday -- and ask these same appropriate questions and get some support and guidance in whether or not a student should return to the classroom for that particular day.
>> Okay. What are some other places the public can get more information, resources as it relates to COVID-19?
>> We've done a really good job and we continue to edit our website to provide as much guidance as we can. We're also providing guidance on music therapy in schools, the mental health of students, athletic program guidance. And so our website is pretty robust and it continues to grow. Our website is www.oakgov.com/covid. Here you can get a lot of the flowcharts that will help guide decision-making on whether or not a student should report to school. There's a decision tree even for folks that may have been exposed to a positive person and what those recommendations are. We also have a lot of information and scenarios in FAQ section as well as our document for quarantine guidelines and how often should a person quarantine. We have recommendations on our flowcharts regarding if you are tested positive for COVID-19, how many days that you need to be home, what is the infectious period for that as well. We have screening checklists, and all of the symptoms of COVID-19 are updated on our website. So we encourage the public to take a look at our website. And then we have a full document, which is our full guidance document, that talks more about prevention measures, monitoring measures, and also testing. Parents can find on our website information about how to get their child tested through the Oakland County Health Department for COVID-19, which is free for any Oakland County residents. We recently opened up our drive-through site to be able to test kids four years old and above because of the reentry of school. This is something that we did not have before. It was 18 years and up. And now free testing. We do COVID-19 testing five days a week at three locations. It is by appointment only, however, we expedite for any children that need to be tested for COVID-19.
>> And how can these parents find out who their school nurse is and get their contact info?
>> Yes, that's a great question. The school nurses update their COVID designee at each school weekly on who is available to assist them. Our school nurses also have taken part in parent meetings in conjunction with the school. They have been introduced at the school board meetings in most districts. And so a lot of the districts are already aware, the parents in the community are already aware. But I do want to mention, when we began to hire nurses for these districts, we took into consideration that many of these nurses may have children within the district. And so we thought it would be a great idea to offer them a preference to work within the district where their children attend school. So some of these nurses are already on the parent committees within the school. They're very well-known within their districts and have relationships already with some of the school officials. And so we think that that is truly a bonus, because they're not only working from an Oakland County Health Department nurse perspective, but they're also working in the perspective as being a parent within the district. And I think that that goes over very well with the buy-in with the community. So we're really, really excited about that, that they've taken the opportunity to work within their district.
>> Okay, that is very interesting. And, Calandra, do you have the phone number available for the Beaumont referral line?
>> Yes, I do. The number to which the Beaumont referral line is 248-551-4242. It is open between 5 AM and 8 AM Monday through Friday between now and December 30. This is at no cost for parents or guardians of children. And this is specific for Oakland County school-age children. After 8 AM, the community can call our nurse on call at the Oakland County Health Department. That number is 1-800-848-5533. And it is open from Monday through Friday between 8 AM and 6 PM, and 9 AM to 12 PM on Saturdays.
>> Excellent. Thank you so much. And for our audience, we will have all of that information in our show notes so that you can follow up if you need to. Thank you Calandra and Cathy for providing your insight on this valuable program. Also, thank you for all that you've done to work hard to keep our students, teachers, and administrators safe. I think we can all agree that the work that is being done by the school nurses in the districts is just invaluable, especially right now.
>> Thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts' Communication Services and is produced by media production and distance-learning manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel, which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode, where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
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We know that school leaders are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to planning for the fall. They need to be thinking about students' social-emotional health and learning. Both things must be attended to. Leaders can't pick one or the other. So, the question is, how do school leaders manage this balancing act?
Jenelle Williams, Oakland Schools' Leadership and School Improvement Literacy Consultant
Marty Chaffee, Oakland Schools' Administrator Leadership Consultant
Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking in Our Schools by Jane Kise
Barry Johnson, lead thinker on polarity management
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello, and welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a Communications Specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. Today, we will be discussing managing the polarity of meeting students' emotional and academic needs during COVID-19. We know that school leaders are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to planning for the fall. They need to be thinking about students' social-emotional health and learning. Both things must be attended to. Leaders can't pick one or the other. So, the question is, how do school leaders manage this balancing act? Here to talk with us about this topic today are Jenelle Williams, Oakland Schools' Leadership and School Improvement Literacy Consultant, and Marty Chaffee, Oakland Schools' Administrator Leadership Consultant. Thanks to both of you for being here today.
>> Thanks for having us, Sarah.
>> We're looking forward to our time together.
>> So, Marty and Jenelle, let's start off by having you explain what you mean by polarity.
>> Polarities are interdependent pairs that over time need each other. Each pole accurately describes something we need, yet neither side is complete without the other. They are items that require and instead of or thinking. A really simple polarity is inhaling and exhaling. The processes are interdependent and we need both of them to live.
>> Okay. So, how is managing a polarity different from solving a problem?
>> Well, some issues do require either/or or versus thinking. Often, there are problems that can be solved once and for all. For example, hunger is a problem that needs to be solved. Either I eat or I will continue to be hungry. If someone is in danger, you either help them or look away. Hopefully, you choose this one wisely. And for a school-related problem, we might think about course schedules as a problem to solve. Polarities are messier systems. They require a different way of thinking. We can't just solve them like we do with problems. The very first step to dealing with a polarity is to see it as just that, a polarity, instead of as a problem to be solved. We see a polarity by asking ourselves the following questions. First, is it ongoing? Second, are the alternatives interdependent? Third, over time are both poles or solutions needed? And finally, if we focus only on one upside, will we eventually undermine our goal?
>> Okay, so what are some specific examples of how polarities might relate to our current situation with COVID?
>> Some examples of current polarities leaders are navigating right now are as follows: In-person and online learning. Leaders need to use both avenues as some families will be most comfortable keeping their kids at home. These poles will be interdependent as well as there may be district staff engaged in leading both in-person and online learning. If leaders only focus on one or the other, they could be in a tough spot as well if schools become closed again for periods of time. Another one might be staff wellbeing and student learning. Leaders are also navigating having medically vulnerable teachers and needing to provide rigorous learning for all students. Teachers need to be healthy and at their best to teach their children and the children need to be healthy to ensure all can be present in school. And of course, as we discussed previously, leaders are having to find ways to attend to student wellbeing and trauma, as well as move learning forward.
>> As we have journeyed through the past few months, Jenelle and I have spoken to many educators. We have heard leaders and school personnel share some very sad stories causing them to want to focus on meeting the social-emotional needs of their students. Here's a sampling of the things we've heard: "My district's leaders say we need to do SEL activities." This was in response to a high school student who in isolation chose to take his life. "I just learned that one of my student's parents died from COVID-19. How can I expect that kid to be ready to learn right now?" Or, "I have parents who are unsure how they will pay their rent. I'm expected to make sure they are seeing that their children are finishing their online or paper packet of assignments?" Recently, I was told that Child Protective Services has seen a steep drop in referrals. Initially, I thought, that was great news, until I was told it was because the people who normally make the referrals, educators, are not in face-to-face contact with the students.
>> We've also heard administrators and teachers focused on how to meet the educational needs of their students. At the very least, students have had three months of their education interrupted. At the most, by fall it will be even greater. Some of the things we're hearing are: "My superintendent wants the teachers to identify the power standards for the upcoming school year." And, "We need to think about assessments so we can identify which kids need intervention this fall." So, let's put it to the test referring back to the questions we shared to see a polarity. Question one, is it ongoing? Sure! This is not a new problem. As educators, we have always struggled to meet the social-emotional needs of students or build relationships along with meeting their academic needs, helping them be successful learners. Question two, are the alternatives interdependent? Absolutely. Students that are experiencing, or have experienced, trauma experience physical and cognitive effects that have a direct impact on their learning. And experiencing success or a proficiency in learning has effects on students' sense of self-efficacy and wellbeing. Question three, over time, are both poles or solutions needed? The old adage, they don't care what you know until they know that you care comes to mind here. Educators know they have to pay attention to both poles. We can be a mean teacher [inaudible] students or we can be an enabling teacher. Either choice leads to inefficient and ineffective teaching and learning. Question four, if we focus only on one upside will we eventually undermine our goal? Yes. Building learning communities and approaches that support social-emotional health but not attending to learning will end up being frustrating for students and teachers. Kids have a natural curiosity that needs to be attended to and only focusing on academics will result in even wider inequities. So, using this four-question criteria, we realize this really is a polarity to be managed, not a problem to be solved.
>> Wow. Lots of really good information there. So, how can we manage a polarity and why should we even do this?
>> Just seeing something as a polarity is progress. Whether it is a school group that engages in exploring polarities or individual teachers or leaders, there will be a benefit. When we manage a polarity, we can reclaim all the energy that is wasted on arguments, resistance, policy swings, and so on. If we learn to start with three steps that organize our collective wisdom instead of solving a problem, which often ends up with winners and losers, we need to see the polarity. That is step one, which we've already discussed. Let's explore that a little though. How does seeing a polarity save energy and keep us from having winners and losers? So, let's say a school is treating students' academic achievement as a problem to be solved and they decide to put groups of students in intervention classes on day one of instruction. By approaching this as a problem to be solved, the school is neglecting the issue of students' social and emotional health. Instead of starting the year with peers and having the chance to rebuild community and relationships, these students receive the message that they are different from, and perhaps less than, their peers.
>> Or, if we treat the social-emotional needs of the students as a problem by spending a large part of our time counseling and rebuilding community, we lose the opportunity to help students continue to develop their academic proficiency.
>> So, step one is seeing it. Step two is we need to map the results of focusing on each pole. And step three, leverage the energy of both sides. We will end up with an articulated plan that moves us toward a greater purpose, meeting the needs of the whole child. Mapping and leveraging a polarity involves several steps that we don't have time to talk about today, but there are several helpful resources to get people started.
>> Right. I mean, it seems like, you know, a fairly complicated subject, but one that is very important. So, how can school leaders and teachers learn more about polarity management and about meeting students' academic needs and meeting their social-emotional needs?
>> Well, a great text resource for educators is Jane Kise's book, Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking in Our Schools. Individuals might also search the internet for resources by Barry Johnson, the lead thinker on polarity management. And, of course, individuals can contact either of us at Oakland Schools.
>> Okay, great. And I'll put all of that information in our show notes, as well as your contact info so that people, you know, can connect with you if they need to. Students are going to have a variety of unique social-emotional needs this school year because of the pandemic, and understanding how school leaders can effectively deal with this is crucial. So, thank you so much, Marty and Jenelle, for talking with me about this important subject today.
>> Thank you for having us on the show.
>> Not a problem. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools' Intermediate School Districts Communication Services and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student, every day.
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The transition back to school is going to be tough for everyone this year. Last year, with the pandemic, school went completely online then ended as it always does with the start of summer. But the bottom-line is in late August when students start coming back, it will have been months since they were in a classroom for face-to-face learning. This transition is likely to hit younger students the hardest as this may be the first time they have even gone into a classroom. In particular, the move from preschool to kindergarten is difficult for many youngsters.
Veronica Pechumer, Oakland Schools Early Childhood Consultant
Christine Hodge, Oakland Schools Great Start Collaborative Associate Coordinator
Nicole McDonald, kindergarten teacher at Schalm Elementary in Clawson Public Schools
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello. Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a Communication Specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. Transition back to school is going to be tough for everyone this year. Last year, with the pandemic, school went completely online then ended as it always does with the start of summer. But the bottom-line is in late August when students start coming back, it will have been months since they were in a classroom for face-to-face learning. This transition is likely to hit younger students the hardest as this may be the first time they have even gone into a classroom. In particular, the move from preschool to kindergarten is difficult for many youngsters. Here to talk with us about this topic today are two Oakland Schools experts in early childhood transitions, Veronica Pechumer, Early Childhood Consultant, and Christine Hodge, Great Start Collaborative Associate Coordinator. Also joining us today is Nicole McDonald, kindergarten teacher at Schalm Elementary in Clawson Public Schools. Thanks to all of you for being here today.
>> Thanks for having us, Sarah.
>> So, Veronica, let's start out by talking about what kindergartners can expect going into the school year.
>> Well, this year will be different for sure. More than ever, we need to begin on a positive note for our children, especially our kindergartners. The start of the school year can create anxieties with our children during a typical year. However, this year, things may be increased exponentially. As parents, we can help our children by not having conversations about our own frustrations and fears in front of them. Whether talking to them or when they are around, be sure to talk about school and learning in a positive way. We understand that parents are anxious about the school year. However, this virus has been unpredictable, so the only thing that we can guarantee is that schools and children -- schools and teachers are doing everything they can to keep your child safe. They're working hard to have various plans to teach your children. Nicole, as a kindergarten teacher, do you have anything you want to add?
>> Yes, thank you. As an educator and a parent of elementary aged children, I believe it's very important for us to keep positive attitude and positive talk around our children, even when we're feeling unsure ourselves. It is important to remember that even though things will look and feel very different for us as adults, this is still a new first experience for our youngest students, and they don't have a former expectation. If we continue to create a safe loving environment where students know they're valued and their mistakes are forgiven, great learning can still happen even during these ever changing times.
>> OK. And just as importantly, what should parents be ready for? Christine, do you have any perspective on that?
>> Yeah, sure. So, parents should expect that each day will be unique. Some days will run smoothly and others may not be quite as easy to get through. From a school standpoint, remind yourself that your child's school absolutely wants the best for your child. They will do all they can to ensure that your child is safe and meeting educational goals. Unfortunately, we are unsure right now if every day that will be in a classroom setting. But reminding yourself that your child's teacher and school absolutely want her to succeed may help you feel a little bit better. Make sure to communicate with your child's teacher. Start those lines of communication early and often so that you can work together as a team to foster learning. As far as your child is concerned, she may be hesitant to leave you, even if she left you easily for preschool or childcare before. She has most likely been home with you more than usual lately, so that's become her comfort zone. So just remember, you are the expert on your child and you know what she needs the most. You can do determine how best to accommodate those needs and when you can push her a bit or not. The other thing you need to be ready for is to not expect perfection, in yourself or your child. This year more than ever, you have to give yourself a break. And remind yourself that giving your child attention and showing her love is all you really must do. Parenting is so hard as it is. Just keep reminding yourself that you have -- that you do have what it takes.
>> And Nicole, you know, as a kindergarten teacher, I'm sure you have some unique tips for supporting the child's transition, especially as they're going from preschool to kindergarten.
>> Yes. Helping your child to be as independent as possible before school begins is super important, and maybe even more important this year as teachers may not be able to help them as much with their snacks and lunch as they have in previous years. Helping your child to be able to put on and take off their own coats and to be able to maneuver the clothing they're wearing for their bathroom needs is very important. Have your child practice opening their lunchbox and Ziploc bags and containers at home. Roleplay certain situations such as if you need to go to the bathroom, what should you do? If you're feeling worried or scary -- scared, here's what you can do. You can trust your teachers, your mommy and daddy trust that they'll take good care of you when you're with them. You can roleplay the teacher role and have your child be the student role so that you can help them through those situations.
>> Another great thing is to encourage your child to follow directions with more than one step. For instance, you can ask them to take their shoes to the bedroom and on the way back, bring you a Kleenex. You can make following directions fun by playing games, like Simon says, giving two or three steps, board games like Sorry or Memory not only help with directions but also can help children wait their turn, which is really important skill for a kindergartner. It's also a good time to start with some chores around the house, if you haven't already. Examples could be asking your child to dust two or three items around the house, or setting the table and asking them to get forks and napkins. Doing chores together is great learning, because it helps your child feel like they're contributing to the family. Christine, do you have anything to add?
>> Yeah, I'll add one last thing. One last thing that you can do, and I know you have heard this before but it really bears repeating, is read to your child. Read every day and everything you see. Not just books, but road signs, store signs, cereal boxes, different things that are a part of your everyday. Point out print when you see it and point to the print as you are reading. When you are reading a book, make sure to ask questions about what you're reading that have more than a yes or no answer. So, what do you think is going to happen next? Most importantly, have fun while you're reading. You don't want it to be a chore for either of you. Find something he likes and read about it.
>> So, often an important part of starting the school year is taking your child to visit the classroom, meet the teacher, all those fun things you get to do. Depending on the district and what is going on with the pandemic, though -- not -- some of this might not be possible this year. So what should parents do instead of these important milestones?
>> It sounds like many districts are trying to provide some type of open house or meet up prior to school starting. But if this is not available, visit school website sites. Some districts may have virtual kindergarten orientations for families to view. These often allow you and your child to see kindergarten classrooms, teachers, school principals, so that you will know what to expect when you walk into the school. You can also find classroom teacher pages that virtually introduce you to a teacher. It's a great idea to visit the school playgrounds too. Those are available, free and fun. It's also very important to enroll your child in kindergarten as soon as you can so you can get the communication from your school about what your school is planning. Even if you're considering online education for your child this year, you can enroll them and begin to get the important updates.
>> All right, great advice. So the transition to kindergarten is not something that happens just that first day of school, but it's a continuous process throughout the entire year. What are some things that parents can do throughout the school year to help their child feel comfortable?
>> Well, one of the first things they can do is go through the child's backpack every day with your child. Ask open-ended but specific questions about their day. Instead of, "What did you do today," "What word did your teacher say most today?" Or "Who has the coolest backpack and what does it look like?" Do this during a quiet time when you're not in a hurry, you'll be surprised about what you learn about your child's day. It's also important to communicate with your child's teacher on a regular basis right from the start. You can learn what teacher -- what the teacher is planning and help prepare your child for anything that may come up throughout the year. You can also talk to the teacher about how your child is doing and if there's anything you can work on as a team. Nicole, do you have anything to add to that?
>> Yes, thanks. I was thinking that maybe having them to try to make connections with another child or family in the class. Having another child that they can connect with may be extra helpful. And they could possibly move from in-person to online, and probably back into person schooling. And if that's the case, that's a child they can continue to "see" through things like FaceTime or distance meetups if the school does close. It could make that transition back into the classroom, if possible, a bit easier. You can join in and participate in live meetings in Zooms that are provided through the school. And also join school social media pages like the PTA or PTO or just the school page itself for more information and to stay connected.
>> Right. And I think staying connected is really, really important right now to find all the latest updates and all of that. So where can people get more information or help if they need it?
>> So the Great Start Collaborative website here in Oakland County is a wonderful source of information, greatstartoakland.org. There are a tremendous amount of articles, parenting tips, videos, links to other resources as well. We also have our Sing, Say, Point, Play literacy campaign. If you can just do those four simple things with your child, it really can help babies learn to talk and children learn to read. You can find out more about this campaign and a lot more by visiting our website. You can also live chat on our website. Or call or text our parent phone line at 844-456-5437. Our care coordinators will respond. They're all live people and they're more than happy to offer you resources, answer your questions, find out what you need.
>> Excellent. Thank you so much, Veronica, Christine and Nicole for talking with us today about this important subject. We want to make sure all of our students are supported this school year, including our littlest ones who are making a huge transition.
>> Thanks so much. Not a problem at all.
>> This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School District's Communication Services, and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel, which are better delivered regionally, and provide cost, size and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis. And you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode, where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
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With school starting back up in the fall, many parents are having to make the tough decision of whether to have their children go back into the classroom or pick online learning options. For the past seven years, Oakland Schools has already been offering an online option for those interested. The program, called Virtual Learning Academy Consortium, or VLAC for short, offers an at-home learning program for grades K-12. In this episode, we talk with the director of VLAC who provides us with some tips and tricks for successful online learning this fall.
Julie Alspach, program administrator of Oakland Schools VLAC
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello, and welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis, and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. It can easily be said that with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of this year, that the landscape of how our children learn has been changed. This past spring, students, teachers, and parents were thrown into the realm of online learning. Some had already been learning this way, but for many others, this was a new way of engaging in curriculum. With school starting back up in the fall, many parents are having to make the tough decision of whether to have their children go back into the classroom or pick online learning options. For the past seven years, Oakland Schools has already been offering an online option for those interested. The program, called Virtual Learning Academy Consortium, or VLAC for short, offers an at-home learning program for grades K-12. There is a public school option for parents and other caregivers who are willing and ready to guide their child's learning in a flexible home-based environment. VLAC currently supports 53 school districts in 10 counties and provides education to about 300 students who achieve academic success through virtual learning. So, with us today to talk about VLAC and some tips and tricks for ensuring successful online learning this fall, is Julie Alspach, program administrator of Oakland Schools VLAC. Julie welcome to the podcast.
>> Thanks for having me, Sarah.
>> So, before we go onto our tips and tricks for online learning, Julie, can you tell us a little bit about how VLAC works?
>> So, VLAC is a program that is an outreach to families who want to do home-based learning. We are a tuition-free program. We are full-time and 100% virtual. Families come to us because in the past they needed a flexible schedule was the major reason that families were coming to us, but now we're also seeing a rise in interest because of health concerns. Our learning guides from the family work in an encrypted program that's aligned with national and local standards with support from full-time, local certified teachers.
>> It's great to know that Oakland Schools has this option for families. In addition to VLAC, due to the pandemic, it seems a lot of local districts have also now decided to offer an online option for students, but for many this type of learning is new. So, how can parents decide which program works best for their child?
>> Well, Sarah, you're right. There's going to be a lot of options out there for them to pick from. And I always advise parents to start asking some questions, and some of the questions I would think that would be important to know, parents should ask how long has the program been around? How long has the teacher been teaching virtual? Is the teacher full-time? Some teachers that are going to be doing these programs might not be available all during the day or when you and your student are working. And another one is how many students does each teacher support and are they supporting only online or in-person? So, I think those kind of questions will give parents an idea of what they're signing up for and help them decide what program is best for them.
>> Great advice. Can you talk about the level of commitment needed from both the parent and child when it comes to embarking on an online learning program?
>> Virtual learning is going to be different in different programs. Some programs are going to require more parent engagement. Our program has a learning guide that somebody in the home that's working with a student. So, it is a full-time program, and it is going to be rigorous. Often that we think virtual learning is going to be easy and quick, but you should plan on spending a few hours a day with your children. Now that doesn't mean you can't virtually school more than one child. A child could be receiving instruction from their parent while another child is doing their homework, and you can kind of balance that, but it is important to know that this is a commitment on the parent's part. Most of the time, most programs, like ours, are going to be flexible on what hours you work, and they're going to be looking at weekly progress.
>> So, say a family has decided to go forward with online learning. What other items are important to get into place before you begin that process?
>> One of the first things I always tell my parents is set up a schedule because part of the problem with virtual learning is you can always do it tomorrow, but there's no bell that starts to tell you math now and no bell that rings again to tell you to stop. So, I always recommend that they set up a schedule with their student and have their student be part of making that schedule. Online learning can be more flexible. So, if your student isn't a morning person, if you have a middle schooler, you may not want to plan it starting at seven in the morning every day. I was a middle school virtual teacher and not many of my students were working at seven in the morning every day. But you know your younger elementary student might be more flexible. So, create a plan with your student, have rewards when you get that plan done, and have a plan B if you don't get that plan done. Maybe we'll do a few extra hours on Saturday. Organize a place for your supplies. You'll probably have books, you'll probably have papers, you'll have pens and pencils and organize that so that it's always in one spot where you can find it. Another thing we also suggest is that you set up a place for learning. Most of us are working remote and we have home offices and we have dedicated spaces for our working. Your child needs that too, and it's usually really helpful if that dedicated space is in the public area where you can kind of see that your child is working. Maybe even see what's on their screen, but not necessarily hover right over them. So, that gives them a little independence, but the parent can also kind of keep an eye that they actually are working. And then last, but certainly not least, there seems to be a lot of thought out there that these online courses are less personal than in-class learning. Can you talk a little bit about how relationships are still very important in the online learning world?
>> Relationships are very important, and when I started as a middle school virtual teacher, I was really surprised at the fact that I felt like I really did know my students, and I knew their strengths and weaknesses, I knew what they were interested in. We could suggest topics that would inspire them to write more because it's things they liked. And that relationship wasn't framed by behaviors or their appearance or personal biases. So, I was really surprised at how you really still connected to your students. But another important part of the virtual program is establishing community, and we do that with virtual and in-person events with our families. We still go to the zoo and we still go to the pumpkin patch in the fall, and then we also have live lessons where students can get together with the people in their class and their teachers every week. For parents to create that sense of community, we have both remote and in-person parent support to help them adjust to the home learning. So, we still create that community and those connections between our teachers, families, and students.
>> Excellent information, Julie. Before we go, can you tell us how people can find out more information on VLAC or other programs if they're interested?
>> So, they can find out more information about our program at our website which is www.vlac.org. They can also call our office at 248-209-2071, and then check out our Facebook page which is VLA Consortium, and we do have a parent meeting coming up. The most recent one is going to be Tuesday night, August 4th, and we will have other parent meetings up until the first day of school. And on our website and on our Facebook page, you can find out a lot more information about our program and the types of things we offer.
>> Excellent, and we'll have all of that information in the show notes for our listeners as well. Julie, thank you so much for guiding our local families through what is going to be some major education-related decision making this summer and fall.
>> Thanks so much for having me.
>> This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools, intermediate school districts, communication services, and is produced by Media Production and Distance Learning manager Mark Hanson. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide costs, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find out more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this in future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student, every day.
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This is the second part of our series where we are interviewing Oakland Schools' employees who are helping out their communities. In the second segment, we will talk about two of our Oakland Schools' staff who are on the frontlines working to help those in need of food and shelter.
Lori Adkins, Oakland Schools Nutrition Consultant
Sara Orris, Oakland Schools Homeless Services Consultant
- Oakland Schools
- Oakland Schools Community Resources
- Meet Up and Eat Up
- Michigan Department of Education
- My COVID Response
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
>> Hello. Welcome to "Educationally Speaking". My name is Sarah Davis, and I'm a Communications Specialist with Oakland Schools, and the host of this podcast. The goal of "Educationally Speaking" is to focus on important topics related to education, here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. This is the second part of our series where we are interviewing Oakland Schools employees who are helping out their communities. Food and housing insecurities for our students are always something we're concerned about here at Oakland Schools. And we dedicate staff year round, provide assistance in these areas. But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these issues even more to the forefront. In the second segment, we will talk about two of our Oakland Schools staff who are on the frontlines working to help those in need of food and shelter. We are here with Lori Adkins, our Oakland Schools Nutrition Consultant. Lori is a national speaker on all things related to childhood nutrition, and was recently elected as vice president of the School Nutrition Association. Lori, congrats to you on your recent election. We're so proud to have someone from Oakland Schools representing us on a national level on such an important topic such as childhood nutrition.
>> Well, thank you for having me, Sarah.
>> So one of the first issues that came up when Governor Whitmer announced that schools will be closing is the realization that there were going to be thousands of students who no longer had regular access to meals. Can you talk a little bit about what impact schools closing had on local children as it relates to childhood nutrition?
>> Well, just to give you a scope of need, about 51% of Michigan students are eligible for free and reduced meals. And in Oakland County that number is about 30%. So on a typical day when school is in session, Oakland County Food Service Program serves about 100,000 lunch and breakfast meals to kids daily. So when the school closings happened as a result of COVID-19, school food service programs they knew they had to act fast to ensure that our food safety net was in place for kids. So we know that anytime when school is closed, schools -- student access to school meals is cut off. So the unanticipated school closure or the USC Summer Food Service Program was a newly authorized emergency food program from the USDA in response to COVID-19. So MDE oversees the program, and it's administered by local districts. So the regular summer food service program, just to give you a by comparison, it traditionally allows students to show up at service sites, and consume the meal onsite, regardless of their eligibility. And the new emergency summer food service program meals are served to kids regardless of their eligibility, and in addition to this, the new program allows parents to pick up multiple meals at one time to take home to their kids. So serving multiple meals on one day it really helps to reduce the number of times that families have to leave their home during the pandemic to get food.
>> Yes; that's -- it's a pretty amazing program. And just those numbers you were mentioning, I mean, that's a huge amount of children affected. Yet it seems like almost as soon as word was given from the governor that schools were closed, there was an immediate local response. Can you talk about what was done?
>> Well, you're right, Sarah, the schools responded quickly and pivoted quickly from the National School Lunch Program to the new unanticipated school closure program. And they did this literally in 72 hours. So just to give you a bit of background, on March 11th the governor declared this -- a state of emergency in our state as a result of COVID-19. The evening of March 12th the governor announced a three-week closure of schools. And then the very next day on Friday, March 13th, Michigan Department of Education held a virtual town hall meeting for school superintendents, and food service directors, on how they can continue to feed kids under the new unanticipated school closure summer food service program. So many districts immediately went into action. And they prepared meals over that weekend so that kids wouldn't miss a meal on Monday. So since then, I'll tell you, Oakland County schools have served over 1.4 million meals in just March and April alone. And that doesn't include May.
>> Wow, that's amazing. And that turnaround, I mean, talk about, you know, just stepping up to the plate right away.
>> Yes; and you might be wondering too how Michigan was able to respond so quickly to this crisis, and it's because we've had these crises before. And this seems like eons ago, but remember last year's polar vortex?
>> As a result of that, schools were unexpectedly closed for a number of days, then it required schools to take emergency action for meals then. So to prepare for future crisis, MDE held trainings back in November, which many of our school districts attended, to prepare them to participate in an unanticipated school food closure program, should an emergency occur in the future. So schools were trained, they were prepared, and they swiftly took their current systems and changed them up to meet the emergency demand of this new program. So right now all 28 local districts are participating in the unanticipated summer food service program. And they are providing meals through the last scheduled day of the school year.
>> Amazing. Where can students be served this food? And I think each district has a site, if that's correct.
>> And what does it look like for interested families?
>> Well, that's a great question. We actually have over 110 sites in Oakland County school sites that families can pick up meals at. So districts have implemented a variety of service models, which really focus on social distancing, to safely distribute the meals, and to, you know, get the food to families safely. So some things that districts are doing are drive-through pickup style. So that's where parents will drive up to a location, typically a school building parking lot, to pick up meals and bring them home. And some schools are -- have recruited the help of bus drivers, and they're using school buses to deliver meals to -- along bus routes, and they're meeting parents at the bus stops and distributing meals that way. Some districts are doing a preorder system, where parents are going online and using Google Docs and Google Sheets, and preordering meals, and then they pick them up right from a specific location. And most districts -- or if not all districts are providing both breakfast and lunch meals. And some districts are even providing home delivery service for those kids with families that don't have a vehicle, or don't have access to a car to drive to a location. So some school counselors and some of the districts have been delivering meals directly to needy students that way, too. So the food that's served is our typical school fare that we have; and it's wonderful. And their breakfast items include cold food items like bowl-pack cereal, wrapped bagels, mini-pancakes, whole-grain pastries, and of course a lot of fresh fruit, cheese sticks, whole-grain crackers, that kind of thing. And then for lunch school districts have been leaning more into individually-wrapped items, because that's the most convenient thing to package and send home; so things like burritos, individually-wrapped pizzas. And some districts have even gotten into preparing macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti and meat sauce, and tacos, and other things like that as -- and they provide heating instructions for those foods that are, of course, sent home cold, for parents to heat up and serve once they get home. So individually-wrapped sandwiches, salads, those kinds of things are also being served as part of the meal plan. So districts are being creative really with the stack that they have on hand, so they utilize all the foods before anything would expire, you know, over the summer. But they're, you know, getting in a lot of fresh produce and a lot of nice menu varieties being offered to the kids through the program.
>> Yes; I know I have taken my kids a couple of times to receive the free lunches. And honestly when I left I was a little teary-eyed.
>> We went -- it was the Thursday before Easter, and so as you mentioned, they were giving away food, not only for that day, but for the weekend so that people had food for Easter weekend.
>> Plus each child pick a toy out, and they gave us candy-filled Easter eggs. And these women were outside, you know, with gloves and masks. It was a pull-up type situation; you just opened, you know, the trunk of your car and they put it all in there. But it was a cold, windy day, and I was just overcome with the generosity of the food program and those who are volunteering their time to make sure [inaudible]. It was really heartwarming.
>> Aw, well thanks for sharing that story. And yes, school food service professionals became essential workers overnight with this program. So the shift from serving meals in cafeteria lines to then providing multiple prepackaged meals delivered in an outdoor setting every day and really requires a deep bench of staff and volunteers. So not all food service staff is able to work right now because of -- perhaps due to healthcare constraints or even childcare issues. So not all food service staff could report to work and help. So volunteers have joined the food service staff and districts to help mobilize and sustain these programs. So the food service workers, the staff are heroes, because they've really put aside their own personal fears to show up and to make this program help others every day. And from -- and these folks are helping to prepare food in kitchens, they're helping packing and assembling meals in the larger cafeteria area, and then the meals are the following day passed out on school buses and in parking lots, and all that stuff. So that's where the work is happening. So the essential workers, they're essential because food is essential to the health and wellbeing of kids every day. So as they say, "Not all superheroes wear capes; some wear aprons." And that couldn't be truer for the volunteers and staff we have now. It's amazing that the front -- they're doing amazing work, the frontline staff. And they're true heroes. And they're truly critical to the infrastructure of our community, and our schools right now.
>> Yes, I completely agree with you.
>> So where can people find out more about this program; maybe where their local pickup site is at?
>> That's another great question. Thank you for asking. So there's a complete list of all Oakland County programs posted on the Oakland Schools resource page. And that's the Help and Community Resource page. And then there's also an online app called "Meet Up and Eat Up Site Locator". And this is an app that parents can use to find the nearest school meal site that's nearest to their homes. So you would enter in your zip code to find out where the closest site is. So you can access the site by texting the word "food", F O O D, to 877 dash 877. And the online app will pop up. You put in your zip code and then a virtual map will come up showing sites closest to your zip code. Also, that information is posted on the MDE website as well. And, you know, districts are also using social media platforms like crazy to get the word out about their programs. Districts have also posted their service schedule on their website, their child nutrition page, and they've even printed schedules that they pass down at distribution sites.
>> Okay; well this is truly a wonderful program. And you said it's going to continue through the end of summer, right, or is there --
>> Yes, the current -- the unanticipated summer food service program will go to the very last day of school. Some districts have opted to run it to the last day of June, which would be June 30th. But every district is a little bit different. Districts, according to the government -- governor's emergency order, are required to provide meals until the very last day of school. But again, some districts are continuing it past that. And then some districts qualify for the regular summer food service program. Districts that do the regular summer food service program have 50% or higher free and reduced eligibility during the school year. So not all buildings qualify for the summer -- regular summer program so -- but there's been a lot of folks signing up for that summer program this year. And I think we're going to see more programs than we ever have in the past. So more to come on that. We, our school nutrition association, and our state, MDE, has requested for additional waivers from USDA to allow districts to expand and maintain these programs moving forward this summer.
>> Excellent. Well, thank you for talking to us, Lori, about this. And I hope --
>> My pleasure. Thank you.
>> I hope to have you in the podcast again soon.
>> I would love that. Thank you, Sarah.
>> Yes; thank you. [Music] We are here right now with Sara Orris, Oakland Schools' Homeless Services Consultant. She works tirelessly all year long to ensure that students that find themselves in a homeless living situation have a seamless educational experience, working with the local districts to remove any barriers that may be prohibiting the homeless student from being able to attend and fully participate in any all school activities and experiences. Additionally, Sara has worked to forge partnerships with many community organizations, in order to ensure that families and students in Oakland County have easy access to basic needs such as food, shelter, and personal items as needs arise. Sara was recently instrumental in putting together an amazing partnership between Oakland Schools, Lighthouse, Gardner-White Furniture, Gleaners Food Bank, Oakland Community College, and Oakland University, where all of these organizations came together to help local families who are food insecure. Sara, thank you for being here on the podcast.
>> Thank you so much for having me.
>> No problem. I've been wanting to have you as a guest on here for quite some time, so I'm glad we could finally make this happen. Can you talk a little bit about how this partnership was formed?
>> Absolutely. Food insecurity is a major issue here in Oakland County. People are often shocked to hear that Oakland County has more than 65,000 students that qualify for free and reduced meals. And that's a ton of kids that rely on breakfast and lunch at school five days per week. And many of those same students receive meals from the districts that provide meals. You have programs such as Blessings in a Backpack, for weekend food and meals as well. Last year the 28 districts in Oakland County, as well as our charter schools, identified over 2500 homeless students. Those are just the students the districts know for certain didn't have a permanent place to call home. And that's just the drop in the bucket, as we know that there are many, many students that go unaccounted for; and all of those students often lack resources for food and other personal items. When we heard that the schools would possibly be closing their doors without much notice, I immediately reached out to our partners at Lighthouse and asked what they might be able to do to ensure that the students and families in Oakland County have access to emergency food. We knew that we would be -- need more food and resources than we typically need, so we needed to remove any barriers that we might find, including removing the barrier for the one time per month access to food, as well as expanding transportation needs that families might have, or removing those barriers, especially given the size of Oakland County. The Lighthouse team worked very quickly to stage a plan to increase the food and distribution capacity, in order to try and serve as many families as possible during this time of need.
>> That's pretty amazing. I'm sure there are many, many working parts to putting something like this together. Can you talk a little bit about what role each organization plays in this partnership?
>> Sure. Lighthouse was really instrumental in getting the collaborative effort together. This included getting Oakland University involved as a partner, and using the Oakland Center as a staging and packing area for food, using volunteers to deliver food, for those families that lack transportation, obtaining a grant from United Way to purchase additional food, contract -- contacting partners from other various parts of the county to use their locations as distribution sites and pickup locations, and then partnering with Gardner-White to pick up food boxes that have been packaged with food, and delivering them to the locations for pickup. Right now the staging sites and packing are done at OU and at Lighthouse in Pontiac, and then they are picked up by Gardner-White and delivered to the additional locations around the county. Oakland University and their COVID response team they currently have several hundred volunteers that help at various times packing the food boxes, loading them into the vehicles of volunteers, and then delivering the boxes. And then they, of course, have the delivery volunteers themselves that are dropping off at the homes. And they try and do this with no contact to ensure the safety for everybody and leaving the food on porches, or at doors for folks. And then additionally Lighthouse have volunteers and staff packing the boxes and then having them picked up by the Gardner-White trucks, and then delivering them to the Clarkston and Farmington Hills area.
>> Okay. Where are the distribution sites?
>> So right now the distribution sites food can be picked up at Lighthouse in Pontiac, Lighthouse in Clarkston, Saint David's Food Pantry in Southfield, and then [inaudible], Farmington Hills. We worked hard to try and find various locations around the county, so that folks would have less distance to travel if they're in, say, the western part of Oakland County. We try to disperse locations for less travel for families.
>> And so how many people have been served by this partnership so far, and how long do you plan to have it last for?
>> Well, between Lighthouse and Oakland University, approximately 500 -- 5,594 households have received food assistance in the last eight weeks or so. We are expecting it to last through June, but hopefully we will be able to continue it into the summer months. That's really going to be dependent on funding and the volunteer capacity.
>> That's really amazing, well over 5,000 families served. I'm glad to hear that so many people are being helped by this effort. And there was also recently a Facebook Live event held by Lighthouse to raise money for these causes, correct?
>> There was; and it was really amazing. They -- it was a huge success. It was a 12-hour live event that included performances by locally and nationally known artists and musicians, as well as interviews from various community partners and supporters. And the event raised $150,000 during their 12-hour campaign. And then additionally, Lighthouse has been running a HandUp campaign. And HandUp is similar to a GoFundMe, but it's specifically for nonprofit organizations that are fundraising for various efforts. And they have been running the HandUp campaign for about eight weeks, and so far they've raised over a million and a half dollars. And the money has been used for sheltering families and individuals in the county, housing needs, as we see folks may become evicted with the pandemic and job loss; utility assistance, food assistance, and other basic needs that we may see arise during the pandemic.
>> Well, all I can say is, "Great job." The impacts of these efforts are obviously far-reaching. Oakland Schools is lucky to have people like you on the frontlines helping those most in need.
>> Thank you so much for having me on the show. I'm really glad to come and talk to you and share the information, and the work that's being done around Oakland County to serve the families in need. And if people want to learn more about food distribution or they're in need of resources, they can go to lighthousemi.org, or they can call 248-600-9541, or they can also go to mycovidresponse.org. Any of those avenues will get them connected to resources, and they can request assistance or other basic needs.
>> Okay, great; and we'll put that in our [inaudible] as well so when people listen to this they can refer to the notes and get that information as well. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School District's Communication Services, and produced by Media Production in Distance Learning Manager, Mark Hanson [assumed spelling]. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find out more information on Oakland Schools are oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of "Educationally Speaking" at Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode, where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every students every day.
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This is the first of a two-part podcast where we are talking to Oakland Schools' employees who are helping out their communities. In this first segment, we touch base with our Oakland Schools Technical Campuses, as well as one of our early childhood compliance consultants. Both are great examples of going above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martin Kaye, Dean Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southwest
Elaine Tadajewski, Early Childhood Compliance Consultant in Oakland Schools Special Populations department
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello, welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a communication specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. Today we are starting a two part podcast where we are talking to Oakland Schools employees who are helping out their communities. In the first segment, we will touch base with our Oakland schools technical campuses, as well as one of our early childhood compliance consultant. Both are great examples of going above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just because schools have closed due to the pandemic doesn't mean they aren't still contributing to the local community. At our Oakland schools our technical campuses have really stepped up and have been helping out wherever possible. Here to talk with us today about this is Martin Kaye, dean of our Oakland schools technical campus southwest. Marty, thanks for joining us here today. It is my understanding you are here talking on behalf of all of our technical campuses as each of them has been doing a lot to help out others during this pandemic.
>> Yeah, thanks for having me Sarah, glad to be here. So yeah, as you said, all this happened really fast and the technical campuses first priorities were really to get everything straight with teaching and curriculum and making sure our students and families were okay. And in fact, early on we even spent a lot of time sharing community resources with families through our social workers in each of our buildings. We spent a lot of times connecting links to resources and we sent out some emails and some phone calls and so forth. But shortly after that we started getting some ideas about ways that we could donate certain things to the community and that's sort of turned into a three step process of being able to donate a lot of items to the community.
>> Right. And rhyme what I understand, there's been three main areas that the campuses have been contributing in. The first is food donations, can you talk to me a little bit about what the campuses have done as it relates to bringing food to the community?
>> Yes, of course. So each of the campuses have, we each have a culinary program, very, very large kitchens, walk in refrigerators, freezers, everything. So we had a huge stock of perishable items, as well as some stuff that was frozen that would last a while and we didn't really focus on this stuff too much. But we did was we all took a look at all of our perishable items, everything. Because we pretty much knew that we needed to get rid of them fast. And we were contacted by a few community agencies around the entire county and all four campuses in basically on day, maybe a second day, boxed, bagged, put everything that was perishable sort of organized together and these community agencies came and picked them up from the back doors of our kitchen areas and they delivered them to food pantries or other places that they needed to go. You know, regarding the food donation. So that was obviously a really rewarding thing to take part of.
>> Yeah, absolutely. And making sure that food doesn't go to waste and not only that but helping others in the process. Another area where the OSTC's have made donations was giving PPE equipment to frontline workers, correct?
>> Yes, that is correct. So, this is also something that kind of we actually had a teacher to make a suggestion that we do that, that suggestion then was forwarded onto some people at Oakland schools and we've started the process of collecting, organizing and then eventually dropping off a lot of PPE equipment, thousands of dollars' worth, to a building I believe that is actually right near Oakland schools. So in general, each of our buildings have several programs that use goggles or masks, you know, we do have health science programs where we train nurses, so we have all sorts of masks and gloves and N95's and just everything. And even some of our auto programs have the heavy duty masks and goggles and gloves and various programs throughout the building. Our culinary programs, each has hundreds upon hundreds of gloves that we you know, boxed, and bagged up and donated and I think even in our agricultural science programs, whether it was gowns or masks and gloves, you know, we had that type of stuff as well. So each dean went through the building with one of their facilities building employees and we just basically walked around and started bagging boxing up as much as we could and eventually I believe those were all driven in Oakland schools vehicles over to the community agency out there in Waterford near Oakland schools.
>> Awesome. And then lastly, at your campus specifically, your agro-science and visual imaging staff and students came together to do something special for the community. Can you talk a little bit about that?
>> Yeah, so the last thing was really cool. I mean, obviously the food and the PPE was really cool as well. But my Ag teacher, Bailey Garwood [assumed spelling] called me one day a few weeks ago and said, "You know, I've got 125 hanging baskets. By this time in most springs we would have had several hundred flats of flowers but we didn't order, it was just before order time when we had to leave the buildings." But she didn't already have the hanging baskets because those are grown further with our supervision leading up to our spring sale. We have a spring flower sale, two buildings who still have the agricultural science program, every spring in May. So, her idea was that why don't we clean up the hanging baskets a little bit, you know, we dead headed them and everything and let's call all of my students and all of our staff and say, you can each pick up two to four baskets. And the idea is to take the baskets and donate them to somebody labeled as a frontline worker. Maybe grocery workers, maybe a mail person, doctors' offices, hospitals, sanitation workers, whoever. So, everybody came and they picked up two or three or four baskets, we did the whole social distancing thing, we had them laid out in parking spots and people just came, grabbed them, threw them in their car and left. And the other cool thing they did on the back of that is they took a lot of pictures and many of those photos made it to social media. In some cases we just kept them internally so, you know, I gave one to my mail person and I had a cool picture about that and we just sort of shared that amongst the staff. But I will tell you in closing with this particular topic, we got incredible feedback and of course a lot of smiles from the people who we gave these to. There were some people that were really blown away that we did this, whether they were dropped off a grocery stores, doctors' offices or even just walking out to the person who delivers our mail, we had some really, really happy people. They thought it was so cool that we did this. And the last thing to add to it, our graphic design department made these little flags, tiny little flags that we put on little wood sticks to stick in the dirt, the soil, that said you know, "Thank you frontline workers from OSTC Southwest." And the back of the flag sort of looked like an American flag and it had, I think the names of who some of those frontline workers were by category like nurses, doctors, so forth. So we kind of had that little flag put in the basket too and that was really cool. It was all good fun.
>> Yeah, I know when we heard about it here we put those photos up on social media I believe the picture of the flag in the flower is our cover photo now. And it was also just in time for mother's day, I think it was the Friday before mothers days so the timing couldn't have been any better I think, for some people to get a little bit of extra love there for those frontline workers. So, it shows that although obviously the main point of our campus is to educate students that even in these times our OSTC's are still able to find the ability to contribute to the community. So thanks Marty for being on this show and for sharing these great stories.
>> Yes, thanks for having me. We are here right now with Elaine Tadajewski. Tadajewski, an early childhood compliance consultant in our special populations department, who was recently recognized on our Oakland schools Facebook page for helping out the local community during this COVID-19 pandemic. Hi Elaine, how are you?
>> I'm good, thank you. How are you?
>> I'm doing good, just taking all of this day by day.
>> Same here.
>> So, at Oakland school's you support early childhood special education staff in Oakland county in matters of compliance with special education mandates and best practices for children with special needs birth to age eight. But you also recently decided to donate some of your personal time and resources to helping out others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us what you've been up to lately?
>> Yeah, I have a neighbor Erin, who is a nurse at Mott Children's Hospital. She mentioned through social media one day back in March that they were in need of cloth face masks. I sew and like most people who do I had a bunch of extra fabric and supplies and whenever I see a need, if I'm able to do something about it, I always try to chip in. So I offered to make some for her and her coworkers and since then I've discovered that another neighbor of mine works at U of M and they needed masks too, so made some for her as well.
>> That is awesome. So with limited supplies everywhere, how have you gone about making the masks?
>> Well like I mentioned before, I already had a bunch of fabric but I didn't have enough elastic to make the part that goes around the ears and the craft stores were completely out. There's a lot of people making masks these days apparently, so I had to order some online and even that was a challenge. I had to wait for at least a week for it to arrive. But in the meantime I experimented with a few designs for the masks and settled on one that the nurses would be able to adjust a fit which I understand is an important feature.
>> And so how many have you made so far?
>> I made about 35 to 40 before my neighbor told me that the hospital system said that they couldn't accept them anymore. Since then I've been making some for friends and family just kind of as needed. I do plan to continue making more to have on hand and to give to others as needed.
>> Who are the masks going to and what is the feedback that you've been getting from the recipients?
>> So most of them have gone to nurses and staff at U of M Hospital and Mott Children's Hospital, but then also friends and family and just anybody that I know that needs one. The masks have been very well received. I've gotten many heartfelt thank your from both of my neighbors. My neighbor Erin sent me a picture of her and her team wearing the masks made by me and other donors and it was pretty special to see all of them together and you could tell they were smiling behind their masks.
>> That's really awesome Elaine. I bet the people getting the masks are so grateful. And you mentioned the other day that you're also making sidewalk chalk for local families.
>> Well, sidewalk chalk games. So, I live on a dead end street with several families who have young children and I started to notice them taking walks with the kids just to get out of the house and I came across a bucket of sidewalk chalk that I had bought for a different purpose and I never used it. So I just started thinking it would be nice to add a little something to the street to make the walks more fun and engaging. So I started drawing different lines with instructions to do different things like running, zigzag walk, hop, jump, spin, following curved lines. And then I did a Google search and found other sidewalk games that would be fun for little kids and could be done with little instruction so it's not like I'm going to stand out in the middle of the street telling everybody how to play the games or instructions posted at the side of the road. So I added those and the response was very positive and I even got thank you's from the families with teenagers and adult children who were joining in the fun with the little kids too.
>> [clears throat] Excuse me, I have a two and a four year old and I know that they would love to see something like that in the neighborhood for sure. Thank you Elaine for all you're doing to help others during this pandemic. Oakland Schools is proud to have you representing us in the community.
>> Well no problem, it's been my pleasure. Thank you for having me on the podcast.
>> This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts Communication Services and produced by media production and distance learning manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find out more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.k12.Mi.US I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student, every day.
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Oakland Schools' Diversity and Equity Consultant Dr. Jay Marks talks about cultural proficiency and how he teaches the subject to school leaders and students throughout the community.
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
>> Hello. Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis, and I'm a communication specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in.
Today we have a special guest, our very in demand Dr. Jay Marks. Jay, thank you for being here today and taking time to connect on this podcast.
>> It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Sarah. It's great to be here.
>> Dr. Marks is Oakland Schools' Diversity and Equity Consultant, and he's highly sought after for his work in the areas of social justice, cultural competence, educating African-American males and student engagement, to name a few. In addition to his professional work, Dr. Marks has been mentoring you since and has started several mentoring programs in the metropolitan Detroit area as a result of his experiences. For this episode, Dr. Marks and I will talk about cultural proficiency, which is currently a hot topic when it comes to discussing matters related to equity and diversity. Dr. Marks, let's start by having you explain what cultural proficiency is.
>> Well, Sarah, I'll start off with a technical definition of cultural proficiency. According to Lindsey, Terrell and Robbins, the authors of the text Cultural Proficiency, cultural proficiency is the set of values and behaviors in an individual or a set of policies and practices in an organization that create the appropriate mindset and approach to effectively responding to the issues caused by diversity.
>> Okay. So how does cultural proficiency relate to the education field?
>> Our educational system was not designed to be equitable in the first place, so our educational system was not designed for people of color, in many instances historically was not designed for women and girls. It was not designed for those who are ably different. It was not designed for those outside of the religion of Christianity. It was not designed for members of LBGTQ community. It was not designed for those students who speak English as a second, third or fourth language. So it was built on inequities in the first place. And cultural proficiency provides a framework for eradicating those inequities. But also, on a practical level for educators, cultural proficiency helps educators to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary for facilitating an equitable and inclusive schooling experiences for students from diverse backgrounds, particularly those from historically marginalized groups. It does this while also providing a framework for educational institutions such as schools and school districts to pursue and sustain equity in their systems.
>> So how do you facilitate this topic through professional learning to educators in Oakland County?
>> It's an inside-out approach to developing educators' knowledge, skills and understanding as it pertains to responding to differences that come with diversity. Unlike other forms of diversity training, if you will, it helps participants to focus on themselves first by examining their own identities, attitudes, backgrounds, experiences before assessing the identities of others. In this process, we use a four-pronged approach to the work. Where we see the most progress around cultural proficiency nationally is when we engage all stakeholders in the work. This includes teachers, administrators, students, parents and community members at large which includes school board members. Cultural proficiency is a model. They use the four tools to shift the culture of an organization such as a school or school district. One of the four tools we use to facilitate professional learning for educators is called the five essential elements, which I call my playground. That's where all the learning occurs because it is that tool, the essential elements that we use to measure the behavior standards for cultural proficiency. That's how we're able to measure how well one is growing towards proficiency as it relates to this work. I believe that these are the core bodies of knowledge, skill and levels of understanding educators need to be culturally proficient, then this is where the learning should take place, in these five essential areas. The five elements are assessing culture, and that simply means identifying what are the cultural groups involved in the environment. So, if we're talking about a classroom, what are the cultures in a classroom? At the building level, what are the cultures in the building? At the district and community levels, what are the cultures in the building -- I mean in the district and/or community? But it first starts off with me. What is my culture? How do I identify myself as relates to my race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation? What is my background? What experience have I had? Then there's valuing diversity. How do we show appreciation for the diversity that exists in our environment, whether it's in the classroom; again, the building or the district. Suppose it's one thing to know whether that diversity exists. It's another thing to show how do we value that diversity that is existing? The third essential element is called managing the dynamics of difference. I love that one. This really distinguishes this work from other former diversity training, if you will, because it intentionally allows educators to develop the capacity to respond to conflicts that sometimes arise from differences. An analogy I use often in explaining the dynamics of difference, I'll ask a group of educators I'm working with how many of you all have ever been in love? Then some people raise their hand. Then I will ask how many of you are currently in love, and some people raise their hand. And I would ask them, in those spaces of love, how many of you have found conflict in those spaces? And then people will raise their hand. And then I kind of joke with them and say how many of you all found that this morning, right, and they laugh. But, at any rate, what my point is, is that in the places where we have the most love we still have conflict. But we learn how to manage that conflict on a day-to-day basis by doing simple things like compromising, seeking to understand, listening for understanding, showing empathy, being compassionate, you know, all the things -- we exercise some forgiveness, right, and some grace to people. And we do these things. Why? Because the love that we have in our households are often stronger than any conflict that can be created by the individuals in our households. So I often ask participants what if our love for each other as human beings was greater than any conflict that can be caused by our differences? So we really know how to manage these dynamics. We just don't know -- always know how to transfer what we do in our households into our classrooms and our schools and our communities. The fourth essential element is adapt to diversity. And what are some changes that we can make in our practices to adapt to the diversity that we have now? Sometimes I find in the school settings we're still teaching to a demographic that existed 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago. And the demographics have shifted tremendously and drastically, but we have not adapted our practice to that. So that's when you look at including things like Black History Month, right, to recognize, honor and celebrate our black children. But I also warn, if you will -- I don't know if warn is the right word, but I encourage educators don't just celebrate your black children in February because your black children will still be black in March, April, May and they were black, you know, in January before we started. So we want to make sure we have 365 day approach to making sure we're being inclusive, honoring and celebrating our differences but adapting to diversities is simply saying what are some of the adjustments and changes we need to make to be more an inclusive classroom or school or community? And then the last essential element is called institutionalizing cultural knowledge, and that's when how we begin to normalize our organization, our institution around the diversity that exists. So we want to begin to look at our policies, our practices and our procedures so that things are just normal. We're not just adapting or responding, but we have equity policies in place. We have policies in place that provide an inclusive environment for students who may be ably different or speak a different language other than English as their primary language, right, and the like. So those are the five essential elements: assessing culture, valuing diversity, managing the dynamics of difference, adapting to diversity, institutionalizing cultural knowledge.
>> Okay. So what are some of the outcomes educators can expect to get from engaging in this professional learning?
>> Well, the outcomes are already set up by the framework, so that makes it easy. It's just getting there that's the challenge. But the outcomes have already been established by the authors of the work, again, Terrell, Robbins and Lindsey. The first one we look at, when we use the essential elements to determine the outcomes, since those are the -- the essential elements provides the playground for the learning. So the first outcome will be under assessing culture, and that includes the ability for educators to assess culture to becoming aware of one's own culture as well as the culture of their colleagues and clients. And when we talk about clients, we're talking about students, parents and members of the community. The outcome for valuing diversity, which is the second essential element, talks about demonstrating a value for diversity by embracing the differences that exist between oneself, the organization and the districts that you're partnering with or working with. Under managing the dynamics of difference, the outcomes will include development of the skills and capacity to manage the conflicts that are caused by diversity. And, again, I think it's important that from informal and older models of diversity training there was an emphasis on similarities and commonalities and not so much on differences and conflict but, again, with the cultural proficiency framework they normalize conflict and say conflict is a normal part of human beings' existence, particularly as it relates to diversity and differences. And so we understand that, so we plan for it and we develop a capacity to respond to it. The outcome for adapting to diversity is learning about cultural differences and how to respond to them effectively. And, lastly, an outcome for institutionalizing cultural knowledge is really getting into the willingness and the courage it takes to do this work. It speaks of willingness to work to influence the culture of the organization so that its policies and practices are informed by what's considered the guiding principles of cultural proficiency for the purpose of creating equitable environment for ourselves and those whom we serve in an organization. So those are the outcomes. And, again, the framework really provides tightly aligned framework for or process, if you will, for facilitating professional learning for our educators. But, again, it's not just for educators. It's used for students. And I use the same frameworks when I'm working with parents and community members at large, which would include school board members.
>> Can you talk a little bit about the different -- like you just mentioned, the different audiences that you reach and maybe some of the different methods that you use to have them do this professional learning.
>> Absolutely. So for teachers it's really about your classroom practices, right? And, when I say teachers, I'm talking about counselors as well, social workers, your ancillary staff. But what are your practices, your classroom practice; and what do those practices look like in terms of being inclusive and being equitable, from your curriculum selection to your instructional strategies and approaches to the routines that you use in a classroom to your -- the way that you manage conflict and manage the differences in your classroom to assessments and all those things, your classroom environment itself. We look at the walls to see who's represented on the walls and how are they represented. Is the diversity of your classroom represented in that space, or is it lacking? Is the diversity of your school represented in that space, or is that lacking? Is the diversity of your community represented in the classroom, or is that lacking? And I often also encourage educators to ensure that they're representing the diversity of the world in the classroom. Our students should not have to wait until they become adults and go off to college or move or go to the military or join a workforce to learn more about diverse groups, which was my experience. I really didn't -- I grew up in a predominantly homogeneous community on the northwest side of Detroit, and for the most part in the '70s and the early '80s everyone looked like me. Then I went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I was like, uh-oh. Everyone does not look like me or live like me. And so there was a shift for me. And I just believe that our children don't have to wait until they're adults to have that shift. We can really provide them with those experiences and opportunities throughout their K12 experience, even minus the lack -- even with the lack of that type of diversity in that community in the school, right, just by the classroom, books that we're using, guest speakers that we bring in, field trips that we take them on to experience.
>> Right. I like how -- I liked how you pointed out the 365 days a year, you know, not just during one specific month or --
>> Yeah. And I believe in Heritage Month because I think it's an opportunity for us to honor, recognize and celebrate groups of people who we continue to marginalize in our society, not just in our schools, in our society. And I don't believe that we've got to full inclusion yet with that. So we're -- you know, people feel welcome. They feel included. They feel seen and heard on a regular basis. So until we get there with our curriculum and our instruction and our placement of students, we still have students who are based on certain demographics, whether it's race and socioeconomic status and gender even, who are placed disproportionately in special education remedial class versus those placed in honors and Advanced Placement or college prep courses. So to me, until we get to a place of total inclusion and integration as it relates to our identities and groups of people who've historically been marginalized, I think it's important to take that time out to celebrate our heritage month. And there are many, from now with African American History Month to Women's Heritage Month to Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month to Arab American Heritage Month to Pride Month to Indigenous Peoples Month to Hispanic Latino Heritage Month. And so I think it's important that we take time out to go and -- and not on the surface. I think those months also give us an opportunity to go deeper in our learning with those specific groups, right, where we're working towards expanding those experiences 365 days out of the year. But for administrators to your original question regarding how does it look differently, administrators, they deserve -- they need some of the same professional learning around identity work, social identity work, racial identity development work; unconscious bias, looking at stereotypes and microaggressions; and looking at privilege broadly. But also something I do that distinguishes their professional learning from that of teachers is provide them with a lens of how to lead equity in their schools, how to lead equity in their districts and in their communities, right? And so we begin to -- and that takes on a different -- that's a different, what can I say? How can I say this? These are different categories, if you will, different elements for them because their practices are different. And so part of that, for example, I always say that professional learning is not enough. Facilitating workshops, which I absolutely love -- anybody who knows me, I love that. But it's not enough by itself. It can't sit alone. We need to begin assessing for what we are asking teachers to learn through their professional learning. So, if we're not looking for it in our evaluation models, I really think that it defeats the whole purpose of doing -- why are we doing. We have to ask ourselves why are we -- why are we supporting this professional learning if we're not going to ask teachers to incorporate it in their practice and then look for it in their evaluations. I believe we owe that to them. If we're going to ask them to go through these professional learning experiences and change their practice or at least begin to reflect on their practices and make the changes where necessary, we owe it to them to look for it and to provide them with opportunity to give evidence that they're integrating and incorporating these things in their practices. But administrators need to know what to look for. So they need their own professional learning so that they can do their own work but also on themselves professionally and personally but also so that they know what they're looking for when they're evaluating teachers. But also, when we look at the development of policies which often happens at the administrative level, central office or at the school board level, and we need to have an eye for equity, right? We need to -- there has to be something that is at the forefront of our consciousness so that we can begin to ask more questions about documents as they're being published, about our processes; who's included, who's not; our practices; who can be marginalized; who may be privileged by these practices. And so, again, administrative level need to be asked those questions. Parents and community members, they need to know how to support it. So they need to -- and, again, they have work to do as well at home. What are we doing because it does -- us, again, it becomes an -- it can become an impediment to the work if we're only working with students in school because so many of our students unfortunately are still going home to households who have not shifted their attitudes, beliefs or mindsets as it relates to diversity. And so we could be doing rich things in schools with our students, but they could still be going home to very bias, bigoted and prejudicial homes that discriminate against people based on the color of their skin, the way that they love, the way that they speak and the way they live their lives that may be different from the mainstream. So the work that we do with parents around supporting what's happening in school is very important. And, then again, work with students which I absolutely love because absolute -- to be honest, often I find with students, particular student leaders which there are many of them. What they most need from us is just a little guidance and support and then to get out of their way and let them go ahead and do what they're doing because they're growing up in a very different world, not that they don't experience and perpetuate bigotry and hatred and oppression because they do. But, again, I find that for many of our young people they're further along than the adults. As a matter of fact, a lot of the work that we do in Oakland County around social justice is a result of students who said that they needed the educators in their lives to develop some capacity to intervene and support them and not just intervene but to support the social justice advocacy that was important to them and begin to intervene when -- when social injustices occur in our schools relative to bullying, around one's identity, racial slurs, hateful speech and the like. So the work looks differently. There's some similar components, again, topical areas that are covered with all groups. But then the pathway is just very different because, you know, the practices and needs are different.
>> Right. Depending on the audience.
>> Depending on the audience. Yeah.
>> How can district leaders find out more about cultural proficiency? It's obviously a very dynamic subject. There's a lot to it. So where can people find out more to study it further?
>> It's life's work, Sarah, to your point earlier in terms of facilitating it. It's an inside-out approach. And I tell people the beauty of the work is that it never ends. I've learned two things as a diversity equity consultant facilitating this work for as long as I have, and that's one thing I've learned is that I don't know enough, and the second thing I've learned is that I never will. But what I do possess -- because you will never know everything that there is to know about differences, right? One of the things I do possess is the will to get to know what I need to know about the groups of people whom I'm serving so I could be responsive, effective and equitable in my work with them. But people can contact me at jay.marks@ Oakland.k12.mi.us. And, again, that's email@example.com Or they can call me here at Oakland Schools at 248-209-2272.
>> All right. Well, I think we can see why you're in such high demand in your field. Thank you, Dr. Marks, for talking with us through this important but very layered subject. With so many diversity and equity topics to tackle, hopefully you can be a repeat guest.
>> Sarah, I would love to come back. Thank you for having me on the show.
>> Not a problem. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School District's Communication Services and is produced by Media Production and distance learning manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size and quality advantages to those we serve. you can find more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.K12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis. And you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
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Oakland Schools Technical Campus-Southeast (Royal Oak) Dean Amy Gole and Oakland Schools Technical Campus (Wixom) Dean Martin Kaye and student Nihal Suthakar discuss what opportunities Oakland Schools Technical Campuses can provide for local students.
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
[ Music ]
>> Hello, welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis, and I'm a communication specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. Today, we're talking about career technical education, often referred to as CTE. According to this data in Michigan, jobs related to information technology, STEM, construction trades and healthcare are all examples of occupations projected to be in high demand in our state through 2026. So, what are we doing to prepare today's students for our current and future economy? At Oakland schools, we are forming campuses throughout Oakland County, which we call our Oakland Schools Technical Campuses, or OSTCs. These schools are specifically designed for educating students who have an interest in a CTE field. So, we're going to spend this episode getting you know what is offered at these campuses and discuss why students should attend. Here with us today to talk about this important subject is Amy Gole, Dean of our Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southwest and Royal Oak. And Martin Kaye, Dean of Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southwest in Wixom. Also joining us today is Nihal Suthakar, a senior at Clarenceville High School and a second year student in the Engineering, Robotics and Mechatronics Program at our Southwest Campus. Thank you all for being here today.
>> Thanks for having us.
>> Thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> So, first, we're going to start with Marty and Amy. Can you describe for us what exactly an Oakland Schools Technical Campus is?
>> So, OSTC is simply an extension of your high school within Oakland County. We have four locations that service all of Oakland County. By attending your high school for half of the day and an OSTC campus the other half of the day, you are experiencing a full academic day. We offer 18 programs, which are developed around occupational areas containing different but related career training options for students. All programs also have some sort of academic credit in math and/or science embedded or integrated into the CTE program. The programs are designed to facilitate learning, allowing students to manage their instructional plan. Students that attend OSTC have the opportunity to participate in work based learning, which is really like an opportunity for them to engage in some sort of internship while they are a high school student. Students are provided the opportunity to earn industry based certifications in all programs. And pre apprenticeship and early middle college programming is also part of the OSTC experience as well.
>> Okay, what kinds of programs are offered at OSTC?
>> Well, as Marty said, we have 18 different programs. So, at the different campuses, most of the offerings are the same. So, basically the first is agriscience and environmental technologies. We also have automotive technology, collision, repair, and refinishing, computer networking, computer programming, construction technology, cosmetology, criminal justice, culinary arts and hospitality, cybersecurity networking, energy and electrical technology, engineering, robotics and mechatronics, entrepreneurship and advanced marketing, health sciences, machining, medium heavy truck and equipment, visual imaging graphic design, and welding.
>> That's a lot of different programs. Can we talk a little bit about how you decide what programs are offered at OSTC?
>> Sure. We make it a priority to offer programs at our four technical campuses that are what we call high wage and high demand. We consider what industry demand is and support building that pipeline for our business and industry partners. For example, a couple of years ago, we began to explore this new medical pathway within our health science program, specifically at the Southeast campus. We did a full year analysis of industry data and determined that the State of Michigan data, Tri County area data, Oakland, Wayne and Macomb, and also just specifically Oakland County, the top medical occupation was a medical assistant. So, when we started our new pathway at the health science program, we focused on medical assistance. One of the critical roles that current technical education does is helping build that pipeline for our future industries. It's important that we offer programming that connects directly with our industry.
>> Okay, so there's a lot of thought that goes into deciding what you put at these campuses.
>> So, Nihal [phonetic], you're a second year engineering robotics and mechatronics student. Can you tell me what led to you attending OSTC in the first place?
>> Well, I first started off OSTC in computer networking. I went in a field trip during my freshman year, and I saw how amazing OSTC was. I knew for a fact that I would definitely join. But on my second day when I was going to the bathroom, I passed by the mechatronics building and I saw all the technology, everything they had laid out, the PLC stations, the giant FANUC robotics, and I knew that that's for sure what I want to do with my future. So, I immediately ask, with all respect, that I want to switch programs to mechatronics for sure. And I first talked to the mechatronics teacher, and I also knew that that would be a good fit because when I first met him, he was pretty loose and pretty understanding. And also the environment on the first day of school was very open. It wasn't a traditional classroom where we had rules and guidelines. We were told to do specific things. But afterwards, we could go into what we liked and what we learned and what we wanted to do with our lives, which I really admired and appreciated a lot.
>> Can you talk a little bit about the mechatronics program specifically? What is it that you do there?
>> So, for first years, everybody has to go hands based on a few of the engineering concepts, like soldering skills, circuit designs, CAD programming. And for your second year, or sometimes even in the second semester or first years, we can expand on the field that we most enjoy personally, because no one is going to be the exact same engineer. There's going to be so many different types. But the first year is just to give us the fundamentals and the basics. And for our second years is when they start going to certifications and making sure they're experts in the field that they want to be. Right now, I'm studying PLCs, and I'm going to be writing my certification exam this week. And I know that two of my other friends, they just got their CAD certification, and they're one of the best builders digitally for our first robotics team as well.
>> And we're going to talk a little bit more about the certifications later. But what are some of the things that you've learned through your program?
>> One of the biggest skills that I've learned is definitely electrical systems, understanding circuits on, and also how to create like working circuit boards. Also, PLCs. The coding helped me work with also CMD programming and Java programming, which is definitely one of the biggest skills.
>> That sounds amazing. So, Amy and Marty, where are these OSTC schools located at?
>> So, like we mentioned before, there are four campuses in Oakland County. The Southwest campus is located in Walled Lake. Really in Wixom, but right on the border of Walled Lake and Wixom. And that campus hosts students from Clarenceville, Farmington, Huron Valley, Novi, South Lyon, Walled Lake, and also West Bloomfield.
>> Okay, and the Southeast campus is located in Royal Oak. And we enroll students from Berkeley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clawson, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Lamphier, Madison, Oak Park, Royal Oak, Southfield, and Troy.
>> And the Northwest campus is located in Clarkston. And the students they serve come from Brandon, Clarkston, Holly, and Waterford.
>> And the fourth campus is the Northeast campus. And that's located in Pontiac. And Pontiac, that campus partners with Avondale, Lake Orion, Oxford, Pontiac, and Rochester.
>> Okay, and what does a typical day or schedule look like for these students, and how do students manage going between their sending school and OSTC?
>> So, the way we describe it is that students basically attend half of their day at OSTC and half of their day at what we call their home high school. They're with us for two and a half hours. And they earn three credit hours during that time, which is noted, takes about half of their school day. We have two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning sessions typically start at 7:30, 7:45, a little bit different in each building. And the afternoon sessions typically start around 11:15, 11:20, or 11:30. The other thing is that we do provide transportation from each sending district to each of the OSTC campuses. So, students cannot drive, because some of their high schools are a little bit far away. They are able to hop on the bus both to our campus and then back to their school so that they can make it home on the bus, bus haul.
>> Okay, so it sounds like everything is pretty much figured out in terms of students getting the best that they can from both their home school and OSTC. They're not missing out on any type of curriculum. In fact, it's adding to it.
>> They're not missing out on anything. And, in fact, it really just becomes substitute electives for them. So, rather than taking say drama or jewelry or statistics or something their junior, senior year, they take mechatronics, engineering, robotics, and mechatronics, which would serve as those three elective credits, either for their entire junior year only, or for both their junior and senior year, or even just for their senior year, because they can come as juniors and seniors, or just juniors or just seniors.
>> Okay, and Nihal sort of touched on this already, but what are some of the real world benefits that students get from attending OSTC?
>> So, there's lots of different benefits. One of the main benefits are the instructors. So, the students are taught by certified instructors that are both highly qualified in the field of education, but also in their industry. So, our industry experts and our instructors are required to main contact throughout the year. So, this partnership that we have with our industry experts actually allows our instructors to stay up to date in their field so that we make sure that we're offering curriculum and programming that's relevant to what's going on in industry at that point in time. One of the other things, and this is something that Nihal [phonetic] mentioned previously, is the ability to earn certifications. So, our students have the ability to earn industry recognized certifications in each of our programs. So, some examples of those things are like OSHA, ServSafe, multiple ASC certifications that link with our automotive area, certified nursing assistants, certifications with the FANUC robot, Java, all of our health students leave with the American Heart Association, the BLS healthcare provider, certified ethical hacker. Those are just some of them. Actually, last year, our students earned over 3,000 certifications alone. So, we really do put a lot of emphasis on the certifications. That's one of the priorities for our students is that they leave with those certifications. Another really cool thing that kids get to know is they get to participate in what we call co curricular student organizations. These are things like Business Professionals of America. You hear people call it BPA. SkillsUSA, HOSA and DECA. Those are just to name a few. With these organizations, students are able to provide an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in this particular area. They get to do different activities, events, they go to competitions. And then students that are successful actually get to directly connect with employers and then earn certifications. We also have a couple of other activities that link with our programs. First Robotics and OCRA, those are also very heavily participated in with our students and provides such an amazing opportunity for our kids. Another area that kids get to get a huge benefit from is our work based learning. So, we have a whole continuum. So, it's things like field trips, job shadowing, internships, and, of course, employment. Some of our industry partners that we work with on a regular basis is Beaumont Hospital, Oakland County Water Resource Commission, Dean Sellers, McLaren, Suburban, the Waterford Fire Department. So, those are all places where our students get to go and be employed. Some of them are paid opportunities, and some of them are non paid. And then we also have a ton of field trips. We get to do some really cool things where we're taking kids to like Little Caesars, Arena, StockX, and even Google. So, the opportunity for the students to participate in these work based learning opportunities is huge. It provides them with options that they don't get to have at their normal high school. And I would say finally the one thing that you'll hear kids say a lot is the benefit to them is being able to attend classes with kids that have the same interests as them. There's not the same feel as their home high school because you're bringing in kids from three, four, five, twelve different schools, and they're getting to interact and connect and network and find time to be with kids that like the same things that they do. And that's a really cool thing for these kids.
>> And I would just add one thing at the end of that that Amy said. Among many things students say they like about our school, one of them is that ability to meet people from many different schools. Almost every time I ask a kid what they like about school, or why they're coming back for their senior year, almost all of them know how cool it's been to meet kids from all sorts of different high schools and kind of branch off and get away from the same district in most cases they've been in since kindergarten, and really just meeting new kids. And our students really seem to enjoy that.
>> Nihal, have you found that to be true?
>> Oh, yeah, definitely. Actually, four of my best friends I met at OSTC my first year. Emma, Nathan, Nathan, and Joe, all of them. Oh, they also motivated me to take on new hobbies too like RC racing, Airsoft. And also joining the first robotics in OCRA. I mainly joined that because of them. I met so many other people because of OSTC and the extracurricular programs that I joined through OSTC.
>> And that kind of gets us into our next question, Nihal where we're going to, you know, talk about all these career readiness and tech opportunities. But there's other skills that students can develop while attending OSTC. What are those?
>> So, in addition to everything we've mentioned already, for years, OSTC has focused on, well, really what we talk, call it as career readiness, like you said, career ready habits. There's other different words we use to describe this. They're basically industry specific content that our staff works on with students that our employers have indicated are must have for successful employment. And, of course, we also refer to these often as soft skills. At OSTC, we call them and sort of use this framework called the Michigan Talent Architecture, which is a little long for MTA, and we focus on the following nine competencies; positive personal brand, integrity, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, adaptability, technology literacy, and customer focus. And something that we've really noticed is that our industry partners, the local businesses we work with really do appreciate this work we do. In fact, we had two industry partners at our open house last Thursday night, and both of them said that when they get resumes from people, even in their late teens, let alone their early 20s, one of the first things they look for is if the student attended an OSTC campus and they put those kids in their first pile because they know that we're really doing such a good job, not only with their technical skills, but especially teaching kids these soft skills, that they are coming in very prepared for the workplace.
>> Okay, Nihal can you talk a little bit about some of the opportunities OSTC has afforded to you that you don't believe you would have gotten in a different setting?
>> Well, as Marty said earlier, OSTC is basically electives kind of on steroids. At OSTC, they give us a foundation for our real futures, the things that we really want to do with our lives. And one of the greatest things is getting ready for the real world. At the end of our first years, most of the kids in mechatronics will get to go for an interview with a real job seeking person. I interviewed with exotic automations, and also Ford. But it was nice to feel the competitiveness of interviewing, even though that you know that your friends are going for it as well, you know how to like tackle it and handle the situation. And it was just overall a great experience.
>> And you talked a little bit about First Robotics too, being involved in that. I'm sure there's some, some other skills that you learned from joining the robotics team.
>> Yeah, there's two robotics competitions that mechatronics participates in. It's OCRA and First. We start off with OCRA, which is just community of Oakland. And we usually do really well in that. For four years, we were champions. And then we just started doing First Robotics last year and this year. And we made it all the way up to Worlds, which is a big accomplishment for a rookie team.
>> Amazing. So, now that you've had all of these opportunities, how do you see all of this helping you in the future?
>> One of the biggest things is OSTC definitely makes me stand out compared to other students. As Marty said, having that name OSTC just on my application, and all the certifications they got, it gives me such a big competitive advantage. For any job, there's always people like continuously going for it, even if you're more than qualified, and you've got to have some sort of advantage compared to everybody else. And OSTC is definitely that advantage. I did get accepted to both U of M and Wayne State, mainly because of the certifications that I got here. And I also notice when I went to the open house for Wayne State, their first year was exactly everything I did in my two years at mechatronics. All of the soldering skills, the CAD, the FANUC robotics, literally almost the exact same thing. If I took the final exam, I could probably get 100.
>> Well, that's great. Marty and Amy, we've heard all about Nihal [phonetic]. Exactly what type of student should go to OSTC?
>> So, I could start with this question. We really say that all students that are in 11th and/or 12th grade should come. They are eligible to come. They can start in 11th as I noted earlier and continue through 12th grade, or they might just start in 12th grade for various reasons. Students that plan to attend a four year university are great candidates, or a community college. Some students even who are planning on starting with an apprenticeship program, or even going straight to work, there's options and career paths for all students regardless of what their future plans are.
>> And if a parent or student is interested in learning more about OSTC, where can they get that information?
>> So, the best place to go for information is very simply online, and going to ostconline.com for all information about the Oakland Schools Technical Campuses.
>> Okay, and we'll have that in there for anyone who wants to take a look and get more information. Thank you, Amy and Marty, for being here today and representing our deans and explaining what Oakland Schools Technical Campus is. And Nihal it was absolutely wonderful to have you on the program. We've been wanting to get a student on here. Best of luck to you, no matter what you decide to do in the future.
>> Thank you.
>> Thank you.
>> Thanks. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts Communication Services and produced by Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel, which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
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Oakland Schools' Assistant Superintendent and Chief Information Officer Tammy Evans and Oakland Schools Service Desk Supervisor Robin Evenson discuss how the Oakland Schools Service Desk was recently given the opportunity to provide tech support for MIServiceDesk, which is a statewide pre-K-12 initiative. This move puts Oakland Schools at the forefront of technology plans taking place at the state level.
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello and welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. Today we're going to discuss how the Oakland Schools Service Desk was given the opportunity to provide tech support for MIServiceDesk which is a statewide pre-K-12 initiative. It is something we are immensely proud of here at Oakland schools and we're excited to be at the forefront of technology plans going on at the state level. Here with us today to talk about this topic, we have Oakland Schools assistant superintendent and chief information officer Tammy Evans. And Oakland Schools Service Desk supervisor Robin Evenson . Tammy and Robin, thank you so much for being here today.
>> Thank you for having us.
>> Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
>> This is a fun topic for us to talk about, but there's also many levels to it. So we're going to kind of go through and break apart how this came about, that Oakland Schools was selected to head up such a big project. Sound good?
>> Yes it does.
>> Perfect. Okay, so Tammy, let's start this off by discussing how Oakland schools got involved in MIServiceDesk to begin with.
>> Sure, Sarah. We have been a part of a statewide project for many years with a collaboration group that has been focused on providing solutions for pre-K-12. Whether they were state-mandated or they may have been something that an association like General Education Leadership Network or the Michigan Education Technology leaders would have identified as something that everyone has to do. This group has focused on many initiatives, and we'll get into that in a little bit more. We have a group called MCH which is the Michigan Collaboration Hub. And this Collaboration Hub focuses on providing these solutions. When we started building these things and providing these things, we found very quickly that we needed frontline support, what we call tier-one support in IT. So tier-one support for these types of solutions is really a website and a phone number and a resource that someone can contact from a classroom or from a central office so they can get support. So really what prompted the state to form the Michigan Service Desk was being able to address the support needs for these statewide initiatives. When we started creating these solutions, we quickly found that the few resources that we had allocated to the work wasn't enough to cover all of the support needs across the state. So at that time, Oakland Schools and many other ISD's were asked to be partners and collaborate on providing resources to support these initiatives. And there's many initiatives associated with the collaboration hub.
>> So what was it about Oakland Schools Service Desk that made it the best candidate to take on the statewide initiative?
>> We're really fortunate in Southeast Michigan to have so many resources. And Oakland Schools especially has a very established service desk that we've been operating for 20 years. So supporting regional initiatives is what we do really well. And Robin and her team have done an outstanding job. They're all very passionate and very committed to learning all the new things that technology brings us. So I knew pretty quickly that it would be easy for Oakland to absorb this entry-level service desk for the state initiatives and contacted Robin and said, "What do you think about this?" And how we would approach it. So we kind of talked about it for quite a while. We talked with our own internal team. Then I offered it to the Collaboration Hub as an opportunity to start out providing support for the state. We want to start out with some of the entry-level applications that are being supported, and then grow it. Oakland Schools is providing this support in a way that allows the rest of the ISD's to join us. So we're not the only provider. Today we are, because we're starting it. But ultimately we believe that there will be other ISD's that help us support statewide initiatives because there will be tens of thousands of people using this service.
>> Okay, so Oakland Schools takes this on in November 2019. Can you talk about how this affected your day-to-day?
>> Honestly, Sarah, the day-to-day hasn't really changed with our team. We worked so closely together and they absorb all tasks that are brought to them quickly and, as Tammy said, with passion. Some tickets spark conversation that come into the MIServiceDesk. We have two leads right now which is Sidney Pershon and Brandon Stevens. They led this project with the team in getting them trained and making sure that they understand what accesses they have and what the processes are to generate the tickets or troubleshoot them. So honestly from what we do day-to-day with our field service districts and all of the 28 districts in Oakland County, it's just the same process. We own that ticket from start to finish.
>> Even still, this sounds like a big project. So what are you focusing on first?
>> When we bring on a new district or a new project like this, any kind of task, our first focus is training. We want to make sure that we have all the data we need to provide the support that our customers are used to getting from the Service Desk. So since this is a new initiative for us, we spent a lot of time sitting with the MCH group who provided the training to us and our team. It took about a week to get us all onboard. Once the training was completed, we had the team play inside the admin councils just so they could get familiar with seeing what the customers and the teachers that call into us are going to see.
>> The first two products that we're supporting, there was a third-grade reading law put into place about 18 months ago or so. And as a MCH collaboration response to that, we created a statewide solution called MIRead. It also ties in with another application called MIStrategy Bank. So MIRead allows teachers to do instantaneous assessments of literacy components for each student that they work with. MIStrategy Bank complements that solution in that it provides strategies to address the different learning styles or the different literacy components that they're trying to help the student with. So Robin's team went through training in not only the applications themselves but really what the content meant. And so they would understand the types of questions that would come in from teacher classrooms, which is where they'll get most of their calls.
>> And what are the other layers that will be supported other than those two applications?
>> The Collaboration Hub has spent a great deal of time -- we've been working on this for about six years. We started with infrastructure, specifically the state education network which connects all of the ISD's and all of the districts to one continuous network. And we created that so that we could address the digital assessment requirement that the state put into place several years ago. So they are doing online assessments they're required to do in every district. And so that state education network gives us a way to capture the results of those assessments. The other layers that we've really been focusing on are the data hubs. So every single district is required to capture all kinds of data about students, about finances, about all layers of classroom management and learning management. So by creating this data hub solution, we were able to connect a way for data to be entered once so that data integrity was the focus. And the district saved a huge amount of money so that they didn't have to enter data multiple times. When a student comes in to a district, they're already registered at the state. They already have a unique identifying number. And there is a way for all of that data to be populated through their student information system and then across all other applications that the districts use, whether it's food service or transportation or many other learning management, classroom management types of applications. We used to do all of this manually. We would enter that data every single time to every single application. So you can imagine Tom and Thomas and Tommy were all put in for the same student.
>> Okay, so what does all this mean for a teacher living say way out in Manistee? Robin, can you take us through the flow of how it works for someone who is seeking assistance from the Oakland School service desk?
>> Absolutely. We have three different avenues that the customers can contact us. For the MIServiceDesk.org is our ticketing system through JIRA. They can log into that system and enter their tickets online themselves. They can contact us through phone, obviously, at 248-209-2060 and get a live resource. And then we also have live chat which is our personal favorite, because it's real-time live chat. You're literally talking with a resource at that time. You can provide them whatever -- you know, the same questions that you might have, the same concerns you have with your ticket. And we can troubleshoot right there at the same time.
>> This seems like a big initiative, so how is Oakland Schools undertaking this project from a resource standpoint?
>> Well, we've really at the very beginning of the initiative, we've just been able to, as Robin said, kind of absorb the additional calls and additional tickets and assistance necessary. But really what we're doing here is we're growing a pretty significant rate. Currently we support very regularly 56 districts, so 28 public school districts and then the charters that we have in Oakland County. We also support a program called VLAC, which is our virtual learning academy. And that is outside of our county. So we've had a regional establishment for quite a while. What MIRead and MIStrategyBank bring to us in the next few months is about 300 districts. So the ticket volume will drastically grow. Beyond that, when we actually start supporting the state education network and the data hubs and the other activities that Michigan Collaboration Hub have created and support, we will have to really resource up. We will have to -- we will be paid by the Collaboration Hub to add resources and to build our Service Desk Solution in a way that fits the needs of the statewide enterprise solution. And that means everything from software licensing to additional hands-on in the Service Desk technicians-wise. Ultimately what will happen I believe is that the Michigan Service Desk will support, you know, the 1.45 million kids that are in the state and all of the 850-plus districts that are in the state. So when I referred earlier to a regional approach, that's really what we envision. We believe that Oakland Schools has a great foundation and a well-established, very strong practice of providing this kind of solution. So building from this will help other ISD's and other districts be able to support their locals in a much easier way.
>> Sounds like a lot of exciting things on the horizon. How can districts find more info on MIServiceDesk?
>> There's a couple different ways. They can go to MIServiceDesk.org and that takes them directly to the ticketing system that Oakland Schools uses. It is branded as MIServiceDesk, so you don't actually see that there's an Oakland Schools brand on it, which is on purpose. Because we wanted to be able to actually roll this all the way across the state and not have it be specific to one ISD. You can also go to GoMAISA.org. MAISA is the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators. That's our ISD association of superintendents and administrators for all ISD's and regions.
>> Okay. Well that's all for today's show about the Oakland Schools Service Desk. Congratulations to you, Tammy and Robin, for overseeing a project that has such a big statewide impact. I'm sure you're very proud.
>> Extremely proud. Thank you, Sarah.
>> Thank you for having us on the show.
>> Appreciate it.
>> This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate Schools District's Communication Services and produced by media production and distance learning manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size and quality advantages for those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.K12.MI.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis. And you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking at our website or on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
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Oakland Schools' Director of Government and Community Services Lisa Hansknecht talks about school aid funding and exactly how it works. She debunks myths to help give listeners a better understanding of how Oakland County school districts are funded.
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
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>> Hello. Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis, and I'm a communications specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. Today, we're going to talk about school aid funding and exactly how it works. It's important to discuss this because there are so many misconceptions about this topic. Helping to debunk those will give us all a better understanding of how schools are funded, which in turn can make us all better advocates for our youth. Here with us today, we have Lisa Hansknecht, Oakland Schools' director of government and community services. And if you want to know the ins and outs of school aid funding, this is the woman to talk to. Lisa has spent 30 years working at the state capitol in Lansing, the last 20 of which she has spent specifically doing work related to education policy. She also serves as a member of the Steering and Technical Committee related to the School Finance Research Collaborative, which we will discuss later on in this program. Lisa, thank you so much for being here today.
>> Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
>> Well, let's start this podcast off by just kind of getting a general overview how exactly are schools funded in the state of Michigan.
>> Schools are funded through a variety of taxes. There is a host of different taxes that individuals and businesses pay that goes to the state, and portions of those come to schools. So, for example, the sales tax that we pay, every time you go out and you buy a new shirt, 6% is put on the overall price and a portion of that comes to schools. And in total, we get 44.2% of total school funding -- this is the biggest one -- from sales tax revenue. You also get it from income tax, so when you pay your taxes at the end of the year. There's a state education tax, which is a property tax. Use tax, real estate, tobacco, lottery. There's a whole bunch of stuff.
>> All right, all of that makes sense. But a lot of times you hear people say, schools don't need the money, they're funded by the lottery. Can you talk a little bit about how lottery money actually plays into school funding?
>> Absolutely. The lottery money does all go to school aid. They get 100% of the lottery revenues. And it equals a total of $979 million currently. That's a lot of money. But when you look at the total amount of school aid funds, the total amount, that's only 7.4% of all of the money that goes to schools. So yes, we get all the lottery money, but it's only a real small piece of that pie.
>> Okay, very interesting. So those are the ways that school money is collected. But when it comes in, then where is it allocated?
>> School aid goes out through the School Aid Act. It's a budget bill they have to pass each year. And in total, you're talking about over $13 billion that they divvy up in different ways to go to our schools. The biggest way is the foundation allowance. And that's what most people hear about. That's the roughly, say, $8,500 per pupil that schools get. So if you have a school with 1,000 pupils, multiply that by 8,500, that's how much they get. In addition to that, there's some big what we call categoricals that help schools address particular issues and challenges that they have. There's categoricals for special ed students. These are students with disabilities. For at-risk pupils. And these are pupils that are poor or have faced incredible challenges. Maybe they have a parent who's been incarcerated. Maybe they're an English language learner, they've immigrated to this country and their parents have become citizens but they're just learning the language. We have also early childhood. So you're talking about the Great Start Readiness Program and all the four-year-olds and I think three-year-olds that that serves. And career and technical education is another big one. So that's all of your career cluster programs that you see in different areas dealing everything from health and computers to construction, HVAC -- like heating and ventilation, air conditioning -- all kinds of career and trade programs get funding through this too. So those are the big areas that the money goes out to.
>> So does all of the school aid money go to K-12 education?
>> Not all of it. First there's that piece about early ed that I talked about a minute ago. And then in addition to that, there's a sort of a controversial debate over higher education and community colleges. And in the budgets that just passed, we had $350 million from the school aid fund that went to higher -- institutions of higher learning, the universities, and 325 million that went to community colleges. That's $775 odd-million. And if you think about that -- what do we have, like 1.5 million kids in our schools, in our K-12 schools? If that money instead of going to colleges went to K-12, that's $516 a student. I mean, imagine what that could do for your child and your school if they had that money in terms of class size, books, materials, support from psychologists or nurses, counselors, career programs. That's why this is sort of controversial about whether it should be going to K-12 or not.
>> How does the state decide how much money goes to each piece of the school funding pie?
>> The current way that we've determined that was predominantly decided by Proposal A, which passed about 25 years ago. And that's where we got that foundation allowance that we talked to. And so a big chunk of it goes right to that, goes to the foundation allowance. There are also big pieces that are obligations that the legislature can't decide not to pay. For example, we owe money on certain obligations related to special ed from lawsuits that said, no, you're not paying enough, you got to pay more. And there's money for matching and maintaining certain amounts of federal money that we have to pay. If we change that, we would lose those federal dollars. So we want to make sure we use that funding. But once they get through all of that, there's typically a chunk of money that legislators view as, this is my piece that I get to decide how the money will be spent. And different legislators have used that in different ways. Some sometimes have a particular school reform or an idea they feel needs extra funding. You'll hear people talk in the past, dating all the back to like Governor Engler had that Laptops for Teachers program, and this is when computers were first starting and they were really trying to get computers in the hands of educators. Sometimes they'll go for literacy coaches, we've heard that before. And sometimes you'll see increases for career and tech building materials or equipment. A lot of times those programs need more equipment. So this is the sort of discretionary pie pot of money that the legislature decides what to do. And the problem with that is, this is where we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot. Because all of the different education groups who all mean well, all go to the legislature and say, I'm underfunded, we need more money for CTE equipment. Or we need more slots for early childhood education. We need more kids to be able to have access to these programs. And what ends up happening is the legislature hears from four different groups that all say they need that little piece of the pie that's left after all the obligations are paid. Maybe school counselors or psychologists come forward -- I'm not trying to pick on any particular group. But just all of these groups know the problems that they're facing and so they come forward and speak out about those problems. And to the legislators, all they hear is this tug-of-war about who should get this last piece of the pie. When we arm wrestle all that, what we really should be doing is thinking about what does the research say? What does the research say that where the funding should go?
>> And can you talk a little bit about that? What does the research say?
>> There have -- over the last five years, there have been a number of studies. Governor Snyder did an adequacy study that showed that we needed considerably more funding. Lieutenant Governor Calley did a study about special ed that showed specifically we needed more special ed funding. But the biggest of these research studies was done by the School Finance Research Collaborative. And this group, made up of legislators both Democrat and Republican, there's foundations were involved, businesses were involved, higher ed was involved. Everybody got together. Charter schools were involved. This wasn't like a public school versus charter thing. Everybody got together and said, given the laws in Michigan, how much does it really cost to educate a child to meet the standards we expect them to meet under all these laws? And it was because of that wonderfully diverse group from all over the state -- eastside, westside, little rural areas, big cities, and both parties, both charters and traditional publics. Because of that, there was a lot of emphasis on the credibility and making sure this was a truly good study done by the best people in the nation. And that's what they did. So they raised money from predominately from the foundations and from the school's community and they paid for this study that really looked at how are we going to educate all of these kids and what is that going to cost?
>> And that study came out I think it was early last year, right?
>> Yes, it's been about a year now.
>> Okay. So we heard about the School Finance Research Collaborative and what they were doing most recently. But can you talk a little bit about what they're doing now?
>> Sure. So they finished that report, like you said, a year ago. And in the report, they identified a couple of areas that they didn't address but they think further research should be done on. And those include things like transportation, capital funding or how to fund the buildings in which all of these schools that the kids go to school to, and further study of high need poverty students. The focus now, in addition to thinking through how to get that other research done, is beginning to implement that research. So the collaborative members were very pleased to see when the governor recommended her budget this past February or March, that she included a lot of the concepts to do a first step toward funding our schools the way the research said. Unfortunately, the legislators didn't really take that research to heart, and the budget they passed, they didn't include the weighted foundation formula. So now the collaborative is going to be doing some education both to the general public and to legislators in particular and just trying to build the case for why this research is the best and why we should be following it and what are the steps we need to do to implement it. They understand you can't just snap your finger and in one year come up with the kind of money that the research says we need. This is something that has to be phased in over multiple years. Many states have done these. In Massachusetts, when they did the study, it took them 10 years to slowly get all of that funding in place then. So this is a long process and we're just starting down that road.
>> Okay. Earlier, you talked about the lottery misconception. Are there any other misconceptions about school funding out there that you want to talk about?
>> Sure. There's one that I hear almost every year that we pass a budget that the legislature passes a budget. When they pass it, unless we're in a recession and we're facing cuts, we always hear them say, "and this year's budget has record funding." Let's dig into that a little bit. What does record funding mean? Well, if I give you $10 this year to buy a book and next year I give you $10 and a penny to buy the book, well, I gave you $10 and a penny, that's record funding. It's more than I gave you before. But it doesn't keep up with what the research says, which might be that really what we need is $15 and instead of a book we need a Kindle and all of these other materials. Nor does it keep up with inflation. Healthcare costs and retirement costs are taking larger and larger chunks. We talked about that foundation allowance of the $8,500 that goes for each kid, almost I think it's around 12 or $1,300 per kid goes to pay for the retirement of the staff and the teachers that you and I had when we were in school. I won't say how many years ago. But we have to pay that obligation and that liability. So it's one of those things that when you hear "record funding," be careful about what that means. It still may not mean that enough funding is going where it needs to in education.
>> All right. So how can school employees or even regular citizens help join toward a united voice to help with these school funding issues?
>> That's a great question. One of the things we need is everybody to get on board with the same message and in some ways a new message. Currently, like I said, everybody is arguing for their piece of the pie. They're arguing and they're saying that last piece of the pie that the legislators determined, that discretionary piece, the most important thing for it should be early ed or CTE or more school counselors, whatever it is that, in all fairness, that's what they know about. And they understand the challenges they are facing. By arguing over that last piece of pie, we're kind of missing the boat. What we need to be saying is, we need a bigger pie. It's not that that last piece of discretionary funding should go to any one of those areas. All of those areas need the funding, according to the research. So instead of arguing over that one piece, we need to be saying, it's time for a bigger pie. And so if everybody were to reach out and try to build a relationship with their legislators -- not just when you need something. Not just when you hear about some law that you don't like and you want to go and, you know, bend their ear. But also, you know, a lot of legislators have coffee hours every month. And you can go, and it may not always be about education. They may be talking about roads funding or healthcare. But if you start listening and just offering your comments, whatever they may be, and the legislators start seeing you regularly, they start recognizing you as a human and not as just someone who's mad about something. One of the great things that school employees can do when they go to these is talk about those particular struggles. When each of those different kinds of groups of people come forward and say, early ed or CTE, they'll say it because they're seeing a particular challenge. Our CTE equipment isn't the kind of equipment that business is using. And that means our kids are not being trained the way they should be. That's all true. You can still say that. But instead of saying, so give us that last piece of pie, the message is, so we need a bigger pie, so we can fund this and all the other priorities. And that way instead of us all competing against each other, we're all working together.
>> I really like that advice, Lisa, especially the part about meeting with your legislator regularly. So thank you. We're lucky to have someone with your budget expertise to talk to. These kinds of topics can be confusing, so I appreciate your clarity.
>> Well, it was a pleasure being here, anytime.
>> This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools' intermediate school districts communication services and produced by media production and distance learning manager Mark Hansen. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size, and quality advantages to those we serve. You can find more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.K12.MI.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis. And you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
Oakland Schools' Teacher Induction and Social Studies Education Consultant Dr. Christopher Lee and Oakland Schools' Literacy Consultant Dr. Andrea Zellner have started a New Teacher Induction Program called NTIP. The purpose of NTIP is to provide induction services for new teachers in participating Oakland County districts. Oakland Schools' goal is to support and guide educators who are in the early stages of their careers.
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
>> Sarah: Hello. Welcome to Educationally Speaking. My name is Sarah Davis [assumed spelling] and I'm a Communication Specialist with Oakland Schools and the host of this podcast. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education hear in Oakland County, Michigan. Thank you so much for listening in. Today, we're going to dive into the topic of teacher induction, which basically is supporting and guiding educators who are in the early stages of their careers. In this podcast, we will be introducing you to a new program Oakland Schools launched in 2016 called the New Teacher Induction Program or NTIP for short. The purpose of NTIP is to provide induction services for new teachers in participating Oakland County districts. Here with us today, we have Dr. Christopher Lee [assumed spelling], Oakland Schools Teacher Induction and Social Studies Education Consultant, and Dr. Andrea Zellner [assumed spelling], Oakland Schools Literacy Consultant. Andrea and Chris have [inaudible] state and national interests in their work with new teachers. They have presented their research on NTIP at national conferences like the American Educational Research Association and the University Counsel for Education Administration. They have also worked to build a network of practitioners from across Michigan to advocate foreign support the work of new teacher induction. Chris and Andrea, thank you so much for being here today.
>> Chris: Thank you.
>> Andrea: Thanks for having us.
>> Sarah: I'm eager to learn about this new program. And, in fact, it was when I was promoting our first podcast, Bullying 101 with Dr. Julie McDaniel [assumed spelling] on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that Chris you reached and thought NTIP would be a perfect podcast topic for Educationally Speaking. So, I'm happy to have both of you here today.
>> Chris: Yeah, we've been slowly rolling out the program over the last three years and have invited new districts to participate as the needs of the districts have aligned with our program goals.
>> Sarah: That's awesome. Well, with that in mind, can you first give us an overview of NTIP?
>> Chris: Absolutely. On our team, we have four Oakland School Consultants, myself and three other very talented consultants. The first one's Andrea Zellner, sitting beside me here, the second is Stacy Woodward [assumed spelling]. She is one of our Disciplinary Literacy Consultants and Social Education Consultant. And then, Ashlyn Curry [assumed spelling] who's also a Literary Consultant. The program is designed around four basic parts, the first of which are quarterlies and quarterlies are whole program gatherings where we invite every new teacher that's in the districts that we're working with to come and gather together. And, the way we think about it is that it's networking around instructional improvement. So, we want new teachers to learn from one another across districts and across buildings. The biggest example of that, the best example of that that we had was one time, we had two special education teachers, one from each district that we were serving at the time, and one of them was a brand new teacher and was asked to create a whole program out of nothing. And so, it was a very difficult time for that teacher. And so, that teacher met with another teacher who taught the same kind of special education program in another district and they had a lot of support. So, this teacher from the first district said can I come observe and can I bring my principal and can I bring my teacher consultant. They went and visited and the first teacher really improved their practice as a result. And, that's the kind of networking that we're looking to generate in these quarterly meetings.
>> Andrea: Yeah, the next part of the program is something that we call Huddles, which were originally content area or grade level group and this year, we've rebranded them as Huddles Plus so that teachers can also engage with online virtual learning, either self-paced or synchronous. And so, those have really expanded the opportunities for teachers to get exactly the type of learning that they need right when they need it.
>> Chris: And then, the third part of the program is there's a coaching part of the program. Now, initially in the first year, we were a small program. We're only in two districts. We had 25 new teachers. And, the consultants provided direct instructional coaching services for those teachers, but we realized pretty quick the program was going to expand and that the need for coaching was going to expand exponentially and that we didn't have the capacity to do that, so what we decided to do is we decided to start training coaches in the districts to do that work. And, that work has been slowly growing. In the first year that we did that, we had about 25 coaches from two districts and this year, we had about 40 coaches from two or three districts. So, that work has been sort of slowly growing. And, we're also thinking about how do we integrate that work into coaching work that's already happening in Oakland Schools. What kind of services are already [inaudible]? So, for example, Marty Chafee [assumed spelling] who's one of our leadership consultants does a lot of this work with principals and so we're trying to align our work with other work that's happening in Oakland Schools in that regard.
>> Andrea: Yeah, and the last part of our program is that we do a lot of research on what is happening with our new teachers. So, one question we had was about new teacher's beliefs and how that impacts their teaching. And, then we looked at how their social networks might be influencing those beliefs. So, we have some outside university partners who work with us in surveying the new teachers and interviewing the new teachers and also with the analysis. So, then we publish that and share those findings widely with the educational communities that we an learn together.
>> Sarah: Okay, great. So, part of the name of this project is Induction and I have to be honest as someone who isn't as familiar with education terms, what exactly is it that you mean by teacher induction?
>> Chris: Well, I think the first thing to realize is that Michigan has a state law that says if you're a new teacher that's untenured, doesn't have tenure in the district, you have to have a mentor. And so, where this program originally started is that Mike Yoakum [assumed spelling], our Assistant Superintendent, came to me and said, we have this law on the books. A lot of districts are providing mentors to new teachers, but that kind of work they're doing is really involved around socialization, like hey, here's where the copier is at, here's the secretary you need to go to if you have a question about your paystub, but what we're interested in is we're interested in instructional improvement. So, socialization is really important. It needs to happen. And, we think the work that's already happening in the district is great and we want to support that, but we want to take it a step further. We want to help new teachers get better at their practice, get better at the instruction that's going on in their classrooms. So, there's that element of it too. There's also a second element that the state requires that new teachers in their first three years have 90 additional hours of professional learning. So, if you're a teacher in Michigan, you have to get recertified every five years, that's 30 hours per year. For new teachers in their first three years, it's an additional 30 hours, so it's a total of 60 hours in their first three years they've got to get recertified and to meet the state requirement. So one of the big things that we want to do is that we really want to make sure that new teachers have, as Andrea said, the way to get those 30 hours that makes sense to them, that works for their schedule, and then also helps them grow in the specific area of their practice they need to get better at. Lastly, you know, we think of the program as five years. In terms of this program, those first three years are really focused on getting those hours, but we now have people, because we've been doing this program and we're in our fourth year, we now have teachers who are in their fourth and fifth year and we're thinking about how do we train them for teacher leadership as well, right. We want to move them on from, you know, being a neophyte into actually helping other teachers. So, we've started to ask some of these veterans of the program if they can begin leading Huddle meetings, leading parts of the quarterly meetings, and we've been seeing some really good results so far.
>> Sarah: Okay. And, I think that, you know, we've all heard about teacher retention right now and how important it is in the state of Michigan. So, can you talk about how NTIP plays a role in that and why this program is important at this moment?
>> Andrea: Right. So, new teachers tend to leave the profession within the first five years. There's a lot of research around teacher attrition at that moment in their career. The New Teacher Induction Program enters into that space to really think about how do we retain teachers in a way that sustains them professionally so that they don't leave the profession and that they don't leave the buildings that they're in. One of the things that we're seeing coming out of teacher preparation programs is that they just don't have the students graduating out of their programs. Those programs have shrunk by 70% over the last decade, which is a really remarkable drop. So, the teachers that we have coming out of those teacher prep programs and placing into classrooms really need to stay. We have a substitute crisis in Michigan. We have lots of students who are being taught by long-term subs, so having a certified teacher in a classroom is a really beautiful thing to have going on for you. As a district, we want to make sure that those teachers don't feel burnt out, that they feel supported, that when they have questions, they know where to get those answers and resources so they can sustain their practice and move through that very tumultuous first five years and into a long term career for themselves.
>> Chris: And, if I could also jump in and add to that, there's also sort of some cyclical and some structural things going on in the teacher labor market as well. So, cyclically, what happens with teacher labor markets is as the economy gets better, fewer people want to be teachers. As the economy gets worse, more people want to be teachers. Teaching provides sort of a stable profession for people in an unstable market. What we're seeing right now because the economy is still pretty good and it's been growing for a long time is that fewer people want to be teachers. But there's also a structural component where the profession is generally under attack. The prestige of teaching has been going down for I think we could say decades and so, we see not only are we at a low point cyclically, but we're also at a low point structurally as well. And, what that means is that we need to install systems for teacher induction and support before we see a flood of new teachers come back to the market whenever the cycle picks back up again.
>> Sarah: And, Andrea, I think it was you who mentioned the research component of NTIP earlier in the program. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
>> Andrea: Yeah, so, it's really interesting. We have a lot of research that shows that professional learning communities can impact teachers' beliefs about teaching. And, we also know that new teachers in their teacher prep programs are really thinking about equity and social justice and the sort of definite thread from all of our major universities who are giving us teachers into Oakland County. So, what we were questioning was okay, so now we have a teacher who's brand new who has this developing sense of who they are as a human being and as a new professional and what happens to those beliefs as a result of interacting with veteran teachers, interacting within their buildings and the culture of those buildings. So, really the question was we believe that there might be some changes around those beliefs, but we don't really have the data to support that. So, the research was really looking at who do you go to for help. So, that was the first question. How often do you speak with them? Who are you naming as your support people? And, then we also surveyed the people that they named as their helper and tried to look how similar or different are those new teacher beliefs around equity and social justice as opposed to the veteran teachers that they are going to. And, we found some really interesting data. We found that their networks really change a lot over the first year. We found that they still go back to their student teaching placement, their mentor from that student teaching placement, that they have a really strong relationship, so that was one person that they really nominated. And also, their closest colleague within the building. So, usually, if I'm a third grade teacher, I'm going to go to my third grade teaching team member or my special ed teaching team member. So, those are the folks that the new teachers are really interacting with. What was missing were more formal leaders that we would expect to see. So, surprisingly, you're not seeing department heads named, you're not seeing principals named within those networks. So, that's really interesting to us, because as an organization, thinking through, we have all these structures in place for formal leadership. Those leaders may not be influencing our newest members of our profession and what consequences does that have? What does that mean for how we develop leadership as an organization and how we support those new teachers as well?
>> Sarah: Okay. So, how can people find out more information or how can a district get involved in NTIP and use its resources. Well, first of all, they can email us. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and Andrea's email is --
>> Andrea: email@example.com.
>> Chris: Two L's.
>> Andrea: Two L's.
>> Chris: And, we were happy to talk to any districts about this work. We want to be clear though, this would be for school year 2020-2021. This year, we're already rolling with our programs and we would want to make sure that any new districts that come in would be fully supported and integrated into the program, but we think that that planning work can begin as soon as January, February of 2020.
>> Andrea: I just want to add too to that because you want to make sure that you have all the structural supports there. So, we meet with human resources, we meet with assistant sup's or superintendents, we meet with the union presidents to make sure that all those structures that might be touching teachers in a formal way are ready to support this more informal way of interacting. And, the other thing we should know is that we have our own hashtag.
>> Chris: And, that is?
>> Andrea: #ntipinoc.
>> Chris: So, that's NTIP in Oakland County.
>> Sarah: Well, thank you Chris and Andrea. I'm really excited to see NTIP develop and be sure to keep us updated here, because I'd love to keep this conversation on the importance of teacher retention in our state going.
>> Chris: Thank you for having us.
>> Sarah: Thank you again and thanks to all of you for listening. And, remember to be sure to follow NTIP on Twitter at ntipinoc. That's N-T-I-P-I-N-O-C. You can also find all this information in the Educationally Speaking show notes. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts Communication Services. Oakland Schools is a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost, size and quality advantages to those we serve. [Music] You can find more information on Oakland Schools at oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM [phonetic]. We hope you will join us for our next episode where we will continue to bring you topics that affect every student every day.
[ Music ]
Oakland Schools' Student Safety and Well-Being Consultant Dr. Julie McDaniel talks about Bullying during Bullying Prevention Month. The discussion ranges from the three main characteristics of bullying to what impact bullying has on school culture.
Host: Oakland Schools' Communications Specialist Sarah Davis
Producer: Oakland Schools' Media Production and Distance Learning Manager Mark Hansen
Oakland Schools’ podcast
Season 1, Episode 1
Sarah Davis: Hello, and welcome to the first podcast of Educationally Speaking.
My name is Sarah Davis and I’m a communications specialist with Oakland schools and the host of this podcast.
Thank you so much for listening. The goal of Educationally Speaking is to focus on important topics related to education here in Oakland County, Michigan. We plan to discuss subjects that have local regional and statewide implications that indirectly impact our students, teachers and parents.
For this first podcast, we are tackling a very important topic: bullying. here with us today, we have Dr. Julie McDaniel who is Oakland Schools student safety and well-being consultant. Julie spends her life’s work educating leaders in the state and nationally with bullying prevention information resources and services.
This past summer, Julie presented at the world anti-bullying forum in Dublin, Ireland on bullying prevention through the lens of trauma. Dr. McDaniel, thank you so much for being here today. It’s an honor.
Dr. Julie McDaniel: It’s truly my pleasure.
Sarah Davis: So, because bullying is such a wide-ranging topic, we’ve decided to have this episode focus on bullying 101, just about the basic information we all need to know about bullying so we can help prevent it.
Julie, can you tell us the three main characteristics of bullying?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: Yes, I’d be happy to. I think that that’s probably the most important place to start. A lot of times bullying is misunderstood and it’s over used, the term. So, Bullying has three characteristics. The first is that it’s repetitive or it’s likely to be repeated. If you see something and you say well this looks like a one-time thing, it’s probably not bullying.
The second is that it is it intentional and unwarranted, which means that it’s always on purpose. It’s never by accident and it’s never just joking.
The third characteristic is the thing that separates bullying from all other acts of aggression and that’s that it’s a power imbalance. What that means is that when people engage in bullying behavior, they believe themselves to be superior to those that are targeting. So, it can be body size, it could be intellectual ability, skin color, ethnicity, race, social status, family income, really it is about the context so, in a particular environment, whatever is deemed as powerful, people who engage in bullying behavior have that and look at those who don’t is being less than.
Sarah Davis: Okay, so who was typically involved in bullying?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: That is a really good question as well because a lot of times we want to take a child who has been engaging in bullying behavior and reduce them to label so I really urge people not use the term bully or victim because what I try to do is more of a restorative way where we look at these precious angels of ours that have engaged in behavior that’s really poor.
So, there are different ways to be involved in bullying. There are those who bully, there are those who are bullied, there are those who both bully and are bullied and I think that even though that sounds confusing it’s important for us to note that our children are not born with the ability to bully that they’re actually taught that something that I share often is that hurt people hurt people.
More importantly, what I want to do is I really want to focus and let people talk about the witnesses. I’ve heard a lot that it’s the bystanders that can really stop bullying but I think it’s important for us to note that just because someone is not actively engaged in bullying, it doesn’t mean that they’re not really active in bullying behavior.
So, in witnesses there are very different types of people that are involved. There are those who may not have been plotting and planning the bullying, but they are involved. They actively participate. There those who are more like cheerleaders, there’re those who say that they’re not involved they show up because they like to be a part of that. They may not be cheering someone on but they might be recording it and posting it on social media. There are those who are who don’t want to get involved because they’re afraid of retaliation and then finally there those and, it’s unfortunately a small number of people who really are potential defenders, but they are afraid to stand up because they’re not in a place where they can to be guaranteed that the adult is going to step in for them. It’s really good opportunity for me to talk about bullying being first and foremost an adult problem that we have to be in first line of defense for our kids.
Sarah Davis: It’s really interesting to hear all the different types of individuals that are involved in bullying. You never really hear it broken out that way. So what is the impact of bullying?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: So, let’s break it down between the individual and the school-wide impact. Individually, students are impacted academically where typically we’ll see those either grades start to reduce, we’ll see lack of homework, we’ll see a difference in their study habits. Physically, we may see unexplained bruises. We may hear about unexplained pains stomachaches, headaches, socially we watch kids become withdrawn, they have difficulty making and keeping friends and then emotionally we see everything from depression to anxiety so in ours the school culture this is where I think their focus should be a lot of times we think that this is a problem between two individuals and what we know is that bullying affects every single person around and so an entire school culture can feel the impact of a bullying situation. What we know is that in schools they report high degrees of bullying behavior. They have lower standardized test scores. We know that student and teacher absences are reflected by bullying situations so that when there’s high amounts of bullying reported, there are more teacher and student absences. We know that every thing is always linked to the safety support nature of the school culture and so when that school culture is experiencing a great degree of bullying behavior, we know that that culture needs to be strengthened - that there is a sense of safety that’s lacking there.
Sarah Davis: That’s very interesting because I think a lot of times you think of bullying as more one-on-one issue so for it to impact the school culture in that way, it’s really interesting how it’s such an issue. So how prevalent would you say bullying is in schools?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: This is a surprising statistic even though we have a decade of strong evidence that bullying is very prevalent in schools. The youth/risk survey which is given every two years by the Centers for Disease Control has told us, our high school kids have told us, that that 20% of them are being bullied on school property within months of the survey. This is happening 5 times over 10 years where they told us one and five in Michigan - it’s statistically significantly higher where we have one in four kids, 25% of our high school students in Michigan say that they’re being bullied on school property. This is not the neighborhoods or the malls, this is right inside of our schools before, during and after. So what we also have are the crime and violence statistics from the National Institute of Justice and what they do is they bring down bullying behavior by grade ages 12 to 17 and what we know is that is that bullying peaks in middle school and the latest statistics from 2018 show that 39% of sixth graders are being bullied on school property and then that number goes down so we know that bullying peaks in middle school. So it’s not getting any better and it’s staying a constant stable statistic despite all of our efforts.
Sarah Davis: Those are some pretty grim statistics why do you think the bullying issue isn’t getting any better?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: I hear this often is people still think that bullying is a right of passage. I hear parents say that it’s tough world out there and they want their kids to have tougher skin that they want be able to survive out there that is not an appropriate answer because bullying is not a natural way of going through life it is unnatural for people to treat one another that way the other thing is that children will never enter this earth with the capacity to bully they actually see other people do that and so when adults look at bullying behavior when kids are coming to them in reporting that and the adults are dismissing it, what it does is it causes kids to one go underneath and not share anything and the second thing which is even worse is for them to grow up believing that this is the right way to act. So adults either don’t want to see or they don’t see and then if they do see it they don’t want to respond in a helpful way. So what we’ve what we learned about is in 2013 the smartest bullying prevention people in the world came together - Teachers College - and they have this seminar called Beyond Bullying Summit and instead of talking about the bullying prevention programs what they did is they came together and they said the best way to prevent bullying is two things: the first is that there has to be a strong and supportive school environment. The first most important thing is that there’s a strong professional learning community that teachers and administrators trust one another. Once they trust one another than they trust the students then that leads to every student having a trusted adult in the school there’s so many good research-based ways to strengthen school culture. So that’s one thing. The second is that only in the safety support of school cultures can we really help kids develop socially and emotionally. A lot of push right now for social emotional curriculum but that’s never good to be effective unless we have a school that’s supportive and strong where teachers and students and administrators feel like they are in a place where they belong.
Sarah Davis: Given all that information, how does bullying even begin?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: So bullying behavior reflects the way we develop. The first way we develop is physically and so we’ll see tripping and pushing and shoving and then as verbal skills start growing we also see verbal bullying and we see females developing faster. By the time kids are, girls especially, are in fourth-fifth grade, we start seeing social bullying we see boys, males in sixth grade, and so I think that that’s why it peaks in middle school this is happening as it’s not just a physical development but they’re growing socially and so right about the age of 12 kids shift their need for approval from adults to one another and so we see that dynamic play into the middle-school setting.
Sarah Davis: It seems like a lot of the focus of ongoing discussions, especially in the school setting, relates to cyber bullying in social media. Can you talk about where cyber bullying fits in?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: Sure, I think that it’s really very quick to say cyber bullying is a problem. One thing that I want to point out right away is that what they have looked at through the research is that cyber bullying actually begins in a face-to-face situation. So cyber bullying, the definition, is the same as bullying except that it takes place using electronic devices. This is not just social media, this is also online gaming chat rooms - anything that kids are doing online.
Sarah Davis: Based on everything we talked about so far, it seems like bullying is so common in schools. Is there really anything out there to protect our kids?
Dr. Julie McDaniel: There’s a lot out there. First of all, it’s good to know that there are laws in place in all 50 states. Michigan was the 47th state to enact an anti-bullying school policy. In our law, it says that it’s not just that bullying is prohibited behavior but it also requires every school district to have an anti-bullying policy that must be easily accessible on their website so there’s anti-bullying policies and all other schools in Michigan. In addition, cyber bullying last year there was a law, it was passed, that makes cyber bullying a possible felony if it’s a repeat offense - so there are strong laws in place. The problem with the laws is first of all that they don’t use the definition of bully that’s accepted by the Center for Disease Control by the research community and even by stopbullying.gov which is our federal site for anti-bullying and without the laws containing the same language as the accepted definition of bullying, what we have then is this continued misunderstanding about bullying behavior is. But that being said, there’s a lot of great things that are happening in our schools and I’m in the schools and I see that they’re in there is deliberate effort all the time to make sure that our kids are safe.
Sarah Davis: Are there any more additional resources available so the public can become more informed on this topic?
Sure, there are lots of resources. One example is Okay to Say which is a Michigan initiative you can call in or I’m through to their website and actually text any threat to a student and that is maintained by the Michigan State Police. There’s the Oakland Schools Bullying 101 page which provides a little bit more information than what we’ve been able to do here. There’s stopbullying.gov which is our federal anti-bullying site and is maintained by the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice and finally there’s the International Bullying Prevention Association website which is filled with research and blogs, newsletters there’s more information. I’m always available, if people are interested in contacting me, I can steer them to places.
Sarah Davis: Thank you Dr. McDaniel, your expertise on this important subject is invaluable.
Dr. Julie McDaniel: Thank you so much for having me.
Sarah Davis: It was my pleasure and thanks to all of you for listening. This podcast was brought to you by Oakland Schools Intermediate School Districts’ Communications Services.
Oakland Schools as a regional service agency that offers support services to school personnel which are better delivered regionally and provide cost size and quality advantages to those we serve.
You can find more information on Oakland Schools at Oakland.k12.mi.us. I have been your host for this podcast, Sarah Davis, and you can find this and future episodes of Educationally Speaking on Anchor FM or Spotify. We hope you’ll join us for next episode, where we will continue to bring discuss topics that affect Every student. Every day.