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Monday, June 30, 2014

U.S. Students Get Top Scores for Sleepiness

From Education Week

By Holly Yettick
June 26, 2014

While U.S. students often catch flak for their performance on large-scale international assessments, they may be approaching world dominance on one such indicator: sleepiness.

In both the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, the percentage of U.S. pupils enrolled in classrooms in which teachers report that student sleepiness limits instruction "some" or "a lot" in 4th grade reading and 4th and 8th grade math and science has consistently exceeded 70 percent.

Internationally, overall averages for sleepiness range from 46 percent to 58 percent, depending on the grade level and the subject. (Eighth grade science classes were the "sleepiest.")

What does this all mean? It is difficult to say. In 2011, the journal Sleep Medicine published a meta-analysis of 41 studies that found that, at least in adolescence, students in Asian nations went to bed latest on school nights, resulting in the world's highest rates of daytime sleepiness.

But a quick glance at the TIMSS and PIRLS charts suggests that the United States generally has higher percentages of students enrolled in classes in which teachers reported that sleepiness limited instruction. Although some Asian nations and jurisdictions reported relatively high rates in certain subjects or grade levels, others (especially Japan) are generally below the international average.

Rankings Unclear

By contrast, U.S. rates range from 73 percent in science and 4th grade math to 85 percent in 8th grade science. Countries and jurisdictions with similar rates in at least some grade levels or subjects included Australia, Taiwan, Finland, France, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. However, because of the way the data were collected, TIMSS and PIRLS could not say where, precisely, the United States ranked in the world.

"What we can say is that greater percentages of students in the United States, in comparison to other countries, have teachers that report their instruction is limited due to students' lack of sleep," said Chad Minnich, a spokesman for the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College.

"Further, our data show that when instruction is limited due to students' lack of sleep, that achievement in mathematics, science, and reading is lower."

However, Iris C. Rotberg, a research professor of education policy at George Washington University in Washington, says that valid conclusions about students' sleepiness cannot be drawn from teachers' responses to a questionnaire item asking to what extent their instruction was limited by students suffering from a lack of sleep.

"Further, because of the basic sampling and measurement flaws in international test-score comparisons generally, the factors contributing to test-score rankings cannot be accurately identified," Ms. Rotberg said.

But in a commentary published last month in the journal Teachers College Record, Meilan Zhang, an assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Texas at El Paso, argued that "researchers, policymakers, teachers, health-care practitioners, parents, and students" should take notice of the TIMSS and PIRLS findings.

"Improving student sleep deserves more attention than is currently received in public discourse and national agendas for education," she wrote. "It is likely that when the sleepiness rankings of U.S. students go down, their science, mathematics, and reading score rankings will move up in the next TIMSS and PIRLS."

Technology's Role

Ms. Zhang's theory is that U.S. students are sleepy in school because they spend too much time texting, playing video games, watching TV, and using media in other ways.

"Heavy media use interferes with sleep by reducing sleep duration, making it harder to fall asleep, and lowering sleep quality," she wrote, citing a 2011 research review in the journal, Sleep Medicine.

But the relationship between youth media use and sleep is not so simple, said Michael Gradisar, who coauthored both that review and the Sleep Medicine meta-analysis.

"Technology use is the new culprit when trying to answer 'Why are school-age children sleeping less?'" said Mr. Gradisar, an associate professor of psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

There may be safe limits to technology use, Mr. Gradisar stated. For instance, recent research results indicate that using a bright screen for an hour before bed or even playing violent video games for less than that will not necessarily interfere with teenagers' sleep, he wrote.

But longer periods of usage can be harmful to sleep, Mr. Gradisar added. Rather than delay school start times, he said, a first step should be educating parents about limiting the hours their children are using technology before bed, and enforcing a consistent bedtime.

Early school start times are also commonly blamed for student sleepiness, especially for adolescents. Secondary schools around the nation and the world have been delaying start times, often with positive results.

Mr. Minnich of the TIMSS and PIRLS center hesitated to "attribute causality or apportion blame to any particular factor." But he did speculate that cost-saving measures to consolidate bus routes might help explain U.S. students' sleepiness.

"For those children who board the bus first, they must get up earlier, may end up dozing en route to school, and may end up arriving at school sleepy," he said.

The 50 Best Private Special Needs Schools in the United States

From Masters-in-Special Education Guide

June 28, 2014

NOTE: Massachusetts families of children with special needs are fortunate to live in a resource-rich environment, with access to first-rate clinical services and a wide range of excellent schools serving diverse populations. Not surprisingly, Massachusetts placed five schools among the top 50 in this nationwide survey of private special education schools. Congratulations to all!


In the future, we would like to compile separate lists to evaluate the myriad schools which exist for specific needs. But with the acknowledgment of the imperfect terms, the editors hope to begin with this list entitled 50 Best Private Special Needs Schools in the United States, with the umbrella term used basically to designate any student who has difficulty with success in an academic environment, whether because of the need for a physical accommodation, a cognitive challenge, or an emotional obstacle.

Schools for students with special needs address academic, physical, social, and/or emotional issues. In this list, specific services provided by each ranked school are outlined. The editors considered both boarding and day schools for this list, and when a ranked boarding school offers day school options, it is noted.

Selections were made based on the following:
  • The school has a rich curriculum based on variety of offerings/tools to service its students.
  • The school has a low student-teacher ratio, which is important to schools which serve all types of learning abilities, but when students struggle in more than one area, the student’s learning experience is enhanced by specialized attention from a trained teacher. Many of the schools chosen have a faculty of whom over 50% possess Master’s degrees or above.
  • The school has won awards for teaching, excellence, or architecture.
  • The school offers unique programs which transcend the basic academic curricula, like animal therapy, links to colleges, online learning options, sports, or art.
N.B. The language in this article takes its cue from the individual school’s designation. For example, if a school refers to its students as having special needs, learning disabilities (LD), learning (dis) abilities, or learning differences, our editors followed suit in that school’s write up.

The editors have attempted to create as geographically diverse a selection as possible while representing the schools which best fall under the methodology.

All stated tuition prices are subject to change; stated pricing may be approximate, and does not include additional fees such as entry or incidental fees, costs for books, meals, technology, or medical care.

13.) Eagle Hill School, Hardwick, MA

Eagle Hill School serves students with verbal, non-verbal, and attention-based learning (dis) abilities by establishing an environment of support and creative, demanding instruction. Its particularly low student-faculty ratio (3:1) ensures not only individualized attention to each student’s needs, but encourages relationships between students and teachers which last throughout a student’s tenure at the school.

As a college preparatory program, Eagle Hill provides both academic instruction and core enrichment, including mandatory courses on personal finance and college orientation. Most Eagle Hill graduates go on to attend renowned universities, and many remain in contact with the school’s significant alumni/ae presence.

Profile: Co-ed boarding school for grades 8-12 with day school options
Student-Faculty Ratio: 3:1
Awards: Outstanding Design Award by American School & University Magazine (2013)
Tuition: $67,850/year (boarding); $48,099/year (day)

24.) Riverview School, Cape Cod, MA

Located in the historical village of East Sandwich on Cape Cod, Riverview School offers integrated instruction and holistic care of students with complex language, learning, and cognitive disabilities. Students are encouraged to understand their needs, take risks in their learning processes, and develop critical thinking and personal advocacy skills. During the course of the year, students collaborate together and with faculty to meet personal goals and participate in enhancement options such as inclusive sports and chorus.

The school offers a transitional program for graduates of the school to learn life preparation skills, including the school-based Café Riverview, a restaurant and bakery which employs students and gives them the opportunity to pursue careers in food services and hospitality.

Profile: Co-ed boarding school with day school options for ages 11-22
Student-Faculty Ratio: 6:1
Awards: Student Center selected as a Green Building of America Award-Winning Project (2009)
Tuition: $74,745/year

27.) Carroll School, Waltham, MA and Lincoln, MA

Carroll Schools are designed to meet the needs of students with superior intellectual abilities who struggle with language-based learning disabilities. A Carroll student typically scores high on cognitive tests but has difficulty with reading and writing skills. Using the Orton-Gillingham approach—in which teachers diagnose a student’s specific needs and then design a curriculum for reading/spelling development which involves sequence, strategy, review, and fluency—the school encourages students to be active, self-sufficient learners.

In addition to academic focus, students at Carroll have access to performing arts, studio arts, woodworking, and technology programs, including visual media instruction which includes experience with green-screen filming and stop-motion video.

Profile: Co-ed day school for grades 1-9
Student-Faculty Ratio: 3:1
Tuition: $42,672/year

29.) Landmark School, Prides Crossing, MA

Students come to Landmark School with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties and transition as confident, competent graduates of a school that focuses on improving the academic and social lives of each student. Faculty and staff concentrate on all students individually, intending to foster strengths, address weaknesses, and uncover the talents and potential present in each.

Landmark uses multiple modalities in teaching, meaning that instructors acknowledge the various ways in which students learn (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile) and design lessons based accordingly. For Landmark’s high school students, a college preparatory program is offered, and young adults learn the importance of critical thinking, personal organization and time management, and writing across the curriculum.

Profile: Co-ed boarding school with day school options for grades 2-12
Student-Faculty Ratio: 3:1
Tuition: $67,600/year (boarding); $51,300/year (day)

47.) Chamberlain Int'l. School, Middleboro, MA

Chamberlain International School accepts students from around the world with learning or emotional challenges which make succeeding in mainstream schools difficult. Upon acceptance, students are assigned to a therapist, clinician, or social worker (depending upon the individual needs) who assists the student throughout her/his duration at the school. Chamberlain’s intent is to wholly serve the student and her/his parents by focusing on three main aspects of a young person’s development: educational, clinical, and social life. In addition to the school’s strong academic and therapeutic programs, it also offers instruction in art, music, drama, automotive technology, and aviation.

All students take part in an enrichment program, which complement the academic curriculum, and encourage development of skills and outside interests. For example, students who participate in the auto mechanics program have the opportunity to take on a project of re-building a car, while those in the aviation program get to fly planes and build up credits toward a pilot’s license.

Profile: Co-ed boarding school for ages 11-22 with day options
Student-Faculty Ratio: 8:1
Awards: Teacher Marge Rose received Direct Care Worker of the Year from The National Association of Private Special Education Centers (NAPSEC, 2014)
Tuition: Upon request

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yoga Nidra: The Antidote to Modern Life

From thrive
The Kripalu Blog on Yoga, Health and Wellness

By Portland Helmich
June 28, 2014

I was not the type of child who enjoyed staying up late. Whether I was at home or at a slumber party, when I began to feel the Sandman calling, off to bed I went. I knew the intense discomfort I’d experience the next day if I hadn’t slept enough. My eyes would be heavy; my energy would be sluggish. After a night without sufficient sleep, the next day would often be a wash. It still is.

When I was a child, however, I could sleep through the night without interruption. Now, I’m awakened halfway through by the need to go to the bathroom. When I return to bed, sometimes I can fall back to sleep without difficulty. Other nights, it can take an hour or more before I drift back into slumber. I can’t seem to shut off my mind and unwind. It drives me nuts.

I’m not alone. One-third of American adults reports inadequate sleep, which can not only lead to headaches and depression, but also to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease over time.


When:   6:45 - 8:00pm Tuesdays, July 11 – August 15

Where: NESCA, 55 Chapel St., 2nd Floor
                   Newton, MA 02458

Cost:    $150 for the 6 week series or $250 per couple

All sessions will conclude with 30 - 45 minutes of Yoga Nidra, which Hannah Gould studied with Kripalu's Jennifer Reis and is certified to teach. Click HERE for more information.

“Stress and sleep problems are epidemic in our society,” says integrative yoga therapist and Kripalu faculty member Jennifer Reis, my latest Kripalu Perspectives guest and the creator of Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra. “A big part of the problem is that we’ve become stuck in flight-or-fight mode, and we’re not able to switch the nervous system back into relaxation mode.”

Jennifer says Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra is a step-by-step guided meditation that helps to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “relaxation response,” which is necessary in order to fall and stay asleep. “You cannot fall asleep in fight-or-flight mode,” she notes. “With Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra, you can retrain your nervous system to switch on by itself, so that when it’s time to relax and sleep, it’ll happen more quickly and without the use of substances to self-medicate.”

Practiced lying down, Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra guides you to bring awareness to the five levels of being (physical, energy and breath, mind and emotions, witness consciousness, and bliss), which in turn allows each level to relax. “There’s nothing to do but notice, which is true meditation,” Jennifer explains, adding that many people find it difficult to meditate in silence, but find it very calming and relaxing to meditate with guidance.

Eight stages comprise Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra. One is a body scan in which you’re invited to bring awareness to each body part. Another stage guides you to bring awareness to the breath and its directional currents in the body. And yet another calls on the senses to visualize a journey into nature.

Jennifer says Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra is the antidote to modern life. “We’re so busy and disembodied in the modern world,” she says. “We’re often multitasking and moving in multiple directions at once, but Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra turns your senses inward for restoration and peace.”

Practiced regularly, Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra might do more than improve your sleep—it can also reduce stress, prevent illness, improve memory, enhance clarity and concentration, sharpen intuition, and increase happiness.

Planning for a Successful Start to Kindergarten

From Get Ready to Read

By the NCLD Editorial Team
The National Center for Learning Disabilities

June 25, 2104

Research shows that children entering kindergarten experience a smoother transition if their parents give them two things over the summer months - confidence and practice. Parents, and preschool providers working with parents, can give their children confidence on the first day of school by becoming actively involved in the process of entering school.

The Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP)'s research brief, "Family Involvement Makes a Difference in School Success," links family involvement with success in school.

Throughout the year before kindergarten, parents and educators should initiate regular talks with their children about entering kindergarten in the fall. These talks will give children multiple opportunities to think about the upcoming school year and prepare themselves for what to expect.

Starting in the spring, topics for discussion should connect to specific experiences the child will have the first day of school, like the route the school bus will take to and from home and familiarizing the child with the name of their new teacher.

Another strategy that helps ease the transition to school is to introduce your child to another child in their new class. Scheduling a few summertime play dates will pay off when your child has a friendly face to greet him or her on the first day of school.

Children learn a lot of new information in preschool and pre-kindergarten. A great way to ensure they retain as much of that information as they can is to practice their new skills over the summer months. With a little bit of planning in the spring, parents and children can build a summer full of fun learning experiences.

Reading Is Fundamental has designed a 10-week Summertime Reading Adventure Guide. Each week has six or seven fun and easy ideas for practicing skills that fit right into your own summer adventures. Parents can also use the month of May to speak with their child's preschool teacher about activities to do at home that will help keep learning alive over the summer.

If you would like to learn more about summer learning activities, the Michigan Department of Education has developed a guide called, "Family Fundamentals for Summer Learning." This guide stresses the importance of summer learning and provides free activities and other resources. Currently, the pilot version of the summer guide is available online. In the next few months an updated version of the guide will be posted to the site featuring additional activities to be used throughout the year.

Start the spring and summer off on the right foot. Start early to build your child's confidence and practice the skills they learned in preschool. If you do, you'll have a spring and summer filled with fun and a smooth transition to kindergarten in the fall.

Brain Imaging Shows Enhanced Executive Brain Function in People with Musical Training

From Children's Hospital Boston
via ScienceDaily

June 17, 2014

Summary: A controlled study using functional MRI brain imaging reveals a possible biological link between early musical training and improved executive functioning in both children and adults, report researchers. The study uses functional MRI of brain areas associated with executive function, adjusting for socioeconomic factors.

This image shows functional MRI imaging during mental task switching:
Panels A and B shows brain activation in musically trained and untrained
children, respectively. Panel C shows brain areas that are more active in
musically trained than musically untrained children. 
Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Boston Children's Hospital

A controlled study using functional MRI brain imaging reveals a possible biological link between early musical training and improved executive functioning in both children and adults, report researchers at Boston Children's Hospital.

The study, appearing online June 17 in the journal PLOS ONE, uses functional MRI of brain areas associated with executive function, adjusting for socioeconomic factors.

Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviors, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands.

"Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications," says study senior investigator Nadine Gaab, Ph.D., of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's:

"While many schools are cutting music programs and spending more and more time on test preparation, our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future."

While it's already clear that musical training relates to cognitive abilities, few previous studies have looked at its effects on executive functions specifically. Among these studies, results have been mixed and limited by a lack of objective brain measurements, examination of only a few aspects of executive function, lack of well-defined musical training and control groups, and inadequate adjustment for factors like socioeconomic status.

Gaab and colleagues compared 15 musically trained children, 9 to 12, with a control group of 12 untrained children of the same age. Musically trained children had to have played an instrument for at least two years in regular private music lessons. (On average, the children had played for 5.2 years and practiced 3.7 hours per week, starting at the age of 5.9.)

The researchers similarly compared 15 adults who were active professional musicians with 15 non-musicians. Both control groups had no musical training beyond general school requirements.

Since family demographic factors can influence whether a child gets private music lessons, the researchers matched the musician/non-musician groups for parental education, job status (parental or their own) and family income. The groups, also matched for IQ, underwent a battery of cognitive tests, and the children also had functional MRI imaging (fMRI) of their brains during testing.

On cognitive testing, adult musicians and musically trained children showed enhanced performance on several aspects of executive functioning. On fMRI, the children with musical training showed enhanced activation of specific areas of the prefrontal cortex during a test that made them switch between mental tasks. These areas, the supplementary motor area, the pre-supplementary area and the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, are known to be linked to executive function.

"Our results may also have implications for children and adults who are struggling with executive functioning, such as children with ADHD or [the] elderly," says Gaab. "Future studies have to determine whether music may be utilized as a therapeutic intervention tools for these children and adults."

The researchers note that children who study music may already have executive functioning abilities that somehow attract them to music and predispose them to stick with their lessons.

To establish that musical training influences executive function, and not the other way around, they hope to perform additional studies that follow children over time, assigning them to musical training at random.

Journal Reference

Jennifer Zuk, Christopher Benjamin, Arnold Kenyon, Nadine Gaab. Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and Non-Musicians. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (6): e99868 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099868

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mindful Discipline for Kids

From Greater Good
The Science of a Meaningful Life

By Jill Suttie
June 16, 2014     

Psychologist Shauna Shapiro explains how parents can combine firm boundaries with loving connection.

When psychologist and mindfulness researcher Shauna Shapiro started noticing some behavioral problems with her 3-year-old son, she realized that being an effective parent required more than just a loving attachment.

Shauna Shapiro speaks at the Greater
Good conference on "Practicing
Mindfulness and Compassion"
But, while Shapiro wanted to learn ways to set limits and teach appropriate behavior to her child, she found that many discipline approaches lack an emphasis on compassion, attunement, and relationship—the things she valued most.

In consulting about her son with pediatrician and parenting coach Chris White, Shapiro discovered that many of White’s parenting techniques were fundamentally related to the principles of mindfulness—the nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and immediate environment.

Together they decided to write a book, Mindful Discipline—published this month—which outlines a new way of disciplining children, one that combines firm boundaries with loving connection. I spoke with Shauna about her book and the idea of mindful discipline.

Jill Suttie: What is mindful discipline, and how does it differ from traditional concepts of discipline?

Shauna Shapiro: The word “discipline” has a negative connotation in our culture and in our society. Many parents think discipline is overly harsh and antiquated. But when you look at the root of the word, discipline is really about teaching and learning.

As a parent, you want to teach your child skills that are going to help them to cultivate greater happiness and health in their lives. So the idea in our book was to reclaim the word discipline. Mindful discipline involves disciplining in a conscious, loving way that can deeply support your child’s growth and development. It’s about being attuned to the present moment so that you know what the most skillful action is in any given moment and what is most needed in any given moment.

Discipline will really not be impactful unless a parent is first and foremost present and connected with themselves and with their child. Parenting is not a flip chart, where you first do A, then B, then C. It’s really a dynamic process, and mindfulness is the best tool that I’ve come across in terms of seeing what’s most needed in any given moment and responding to life.

JS: What are the important elements of mindful discipline?

SS: We begin with unconditional love because first and foremost children need to know that they are loved, and that this love will not be taken away. This unconditional love gives our children space to be themselves, and they retain a basic trust in the world and a sense of their inherent value as human beings. Feeling a degree of autonomy, they remain curious, engaged, and develop an increasing sense of responsibility over their lives.

However, children also need mentorship and healthy boundaries. Mentorship provides the modeling and direct building of skills that you as a parent have to offer your children. Often parents think that in order to preserve their loving connection, they cannot set strong limits and boundaries. This is not accurate.

Offering our children strong clear boundaries creates a sense of safety, and a clear recognition of who is the parent and who is the child. We call this a “loving hierarchy.”

Lastly and perhaps most surprisingly, our “mis-takes” can end up nour­ishing our children. We write “mis-takes” instead of “mistakes” to signify that these are “missed takes”—moments or occasions when we missed the mark and need to correct course. In this way, mis-takes can be seen as potentially beneficial and nourishing, rather than simply bad or wrong.

JS: Mistakes are beneficial? How so?

SS: The most harmful thing that plagues us as parents is that we think we’re doing it all wrong, that we’re not OK, and that we’re not good enough. But making mistakes is part of parenting; we can learn from them and they can enhance vulnerability, authenticity, and connection with our children.

We write about mistakes in a way that allows parents to realize a parenting mistake is not their fault, yet they are responsible to try to make it right. Causes and conditions may have led a parent to that moment; but once they see they’ve made a mistake, parents can take responsibility and make it right. In that way, they can model to their child that it’s OK to mess up; they don’t have to be perfect.

Being human is not a big self-improvement project. When we start acknowledging mistakes, instead of shaming ourselves or our children, it creates a spaciousness and a sense of ease and relief, knowing it’s OK to be imperfect.

JS: Many parents aim for compliance in their children, yet you warn against that. Why?

SS: Compliance is great in the short term. I love it when my son just does exactly what I ask him to do! But compliance at the cost of the relationship has no value.

I think the intention with our book was to say you can have both: you can have compliance and you can keep the loving connection. Sometimes parents don’t step into their role with enough authority and control, and then overexert it when in distress mode. We’re inviting parents to create a loving hierarchy, where you claim your role as a parent and it’s clear who’s making the decisions.

At times, however, it is helpful to create environments where the child leads. For example, when I go hiking with my son, I might invite him to be the “leader.” He gets to decide what path we’ll take, and I’ll follow him; he decides when we take our breaks, where we stop for lunch. But ultimately we both know who decides what time we are leaving for school, and whether or not he brushes his teeth. There’s clarity in a hierarchy and it creates a sense of safety for the child.

JS:  Isn’t it hard to find the right balance between allowing kids autonomy and giving them appropriate boundaries?

SS: That’s where mindfulness comes in. The word mindfulness means to see clearly, and so what we’re trying to do is to see with discernment. What is most needed in this moment? Is it space, autonomy, or a boundary? Or maybe it’s some of each: you can run around the park, but here’s a line you can’t cross—a non-negotiable line. Children can hear it in your voice when you’re clear and you’re not angry, but you’re also not going to move from your line.

JS: Mindful discipline seems like it might be easier to do in theory than in practice. How do you handle those difficult moments, like when you’re stressed and trying to get out the door?

SS: Sometimes, we don’t handle difficulty very well. And that’s where self-forgiveness comes in. As Ram Das says, “You fall off the path 1000 times, the trick is to get back on 1001.” As we learn from our mistakes, we can begin to create an environment that supports ourselves and our child.

For example, maybe I realize that it’s during the morning routine where drama happens in the family. Once I realize that rushing and running late always leads to a breakdown, I can choose to get up a little earlier, or pack lunch the night before. Then, there can be spaciousness around my toddler not feeling like getting dressed right now. I have time to connect, listen, and then gently guide him to getting dressed.

From my experience, it’s when you’re off-balance that a child pushing harder can throw you completely. If you’re more centered, then you can respond clearly in that moment. Of course, there may be certain boundaries where there is no negotiation—i.e., you must wear rain-boots if it’s raining outside! But what color socks you wear, that’s negotiable. Being mindful can help you stay clear about what’s negotiable and what isn’t.

JS: What do you recommend when you’re about to lose it, besides forethought?

SS: Planning ahead is definitely the best recipe. But when you’re in those moments, I recommend first pausing and taking a breath before you do anything else. Connect with yourself and remember your intention: My intention is to maintain unconditional love and connection with my child, even as I set boundaries.

The problem is when we start negotiating around non-negotiable things—For example saying to our 4-year old, “Sweetie, please put on your socks, Mommy has to go to work.” Your child’s prefrontal cortex isn’t formed yet. He’s not going to feel bad for you and realize he needs to put on his socks or you will be late for work. Trying to coax or rationalize him into it is not appropriate. What is needed is a clear voice with no options: “We’re putting your socks on now.”

There are different techniques for different developmental stages that we outline in the book; but the most important thing is to stay connected to your intention and to remain calm and clear. If we want to encourage impulse control and adaptability in our children, we have to have these ourselves.

JS: Do you see your book turning into some kind of course for parents?

SS: I do. In fact, we created a very brief online course that people are starting to register for. It’s a synthesis of our book, with each chapter getting about 5-10 minutes of video treatment. I also plan to keep teaching experiential workshops for parents when I can.

But the book is just a start; it’s not the Holy Grail. For me, it’s really the opening of a conversation, a continued exploration of how to best parent, how to best serve our children, and how to be most authentically and joyfully alive as a parent. I really offer it from a place of humility, and not as an expert. At some level, parents already know all of what we are teaching.

This book, Mindful Discipline, is simply a reminder, guiding parents back to their own wise and loving hearts.

Guidelines for Pediatric Concussion

From the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation

June 25, 2014

Download the Guidelines

Summarized Versions by Role

For ease of access, the guidelines are divided into three versions, specific to your role when interacting with children and/or adolescents who have sustained a concussion:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Recovery High Schools: Fixing an Anomaly

From Special Education Today
A Special Ed Law Blog from Kotin, Crabtree & Strong

By Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.
June 25, 2014

In 2009, the (MA) legislature enacted a law (M.G.L. c. 71, §91) that provides for the creation of a number of Recovery High Schools. Four such schools have been established, in Boston, Beverly, Brockton, and Springfield, and they are an indispensable resource for troubled students fortunate enough to enroll.

Recovery High Schools are designed to enable students who are in recovery from alcoholism or other kinds of substance dependence or addiction to reengage with their education, consolidate their steps to recovery, and emerge, hopefully, not only with a diploma but also with the internal resources and a community of support to remain sober and/or drug-free and to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

The importance of such a resource for kids emerging from the extremely difficult challenge of extricating themselves from their dependence on alcohol or other substances can't be exaggerated.

To return a recovering addict to the very community where she or he first turned to drugs or alcohol can be fatal to the student’s hard-won beginnings of a drug or alcohol-free life.

There is usually a marginal group of peers who are all too ready to welcome the recovering addict back into their midst, and the problems that drove the student into use and abuse of substances in the first place are all too ready to reemerge, sometimes with even greater force than before.

Recovery High Schools offer those students a faculty and service providers with a specialized understanding of the drives and causes of a student’s dependence on alcohol and/or other drugs and the structure and therapeutic resources necessary to help the student, in the company of other students with the same personal mission, to gather him- or herself for the long haul without recourse to the substances.

The students who can get to a Recovery High School can benefit tremendously. However, a glaring omission in the Recovery High School statute prevents some students who urgently need such a resource from being able to enroll. While the statute requires school districts to pay tuition based on an average per pupil rate for any student who enrolls at a Recovery High School, and while foundation funding is provided for such schools through the Department of Public Health, there is no provision for transportation to and from a Recovery High School.

Thus, in the areas surround each of the four currently established Recovery High Schools, there are a number of otherwise eligible students who cannot get to and from the program for lack of transportation.

Students who attend vocational-technical schools outside of their districts are provided with transportation, as are students who attend charter schools or private special education schools under IEPs, but students who need access to a Recovery High School and who cannot secure a reliable way to get to and from that school must go without.

Fortunately, a legislative initiative to erase this anomaly is building as we post this note, led by Representatives Tom Sannicandro (Framingham and Ashland; Chair of Joint Committee on Higher Education) and Liz Malia (Jamaica Plain, Chair of Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse). They and a growing number of legislators alert to the problem are moving to amend the law to provide for transportation and advocating for an appropriation to support the costs of that service.

You can help by letting your State Representative and State Senator know that you would like them to support this initiative. It would require a relatively modest investment to make transportation available for those who need it to and from Recovery High Schools.

The potential benefit in the lives of kids who are making serious efforts to recover from alcohol or substance dependence or addiction and who are at tremendous risk of falling back without access to such a resource is beyond price.

You can identify and find how to contact your Representative at https://malegislature.gov/People/CityList. Ask your Representative to sign on to the Sannicandro letter for Recovery High School Transportation.


More About MA's Recovery High Schools

Funded by the Department of Public Health, Massachusetts' recovery high schools are four year, non-traditional public high schools that currently serve approximately 30-50 students each, all of whom have been diagnosed with a substance abuse or dependence disorder. Students must have successfully completed a primary phase of treatment and be committed to a program of recovery as a condition of admission.

All students and parents must sign a behavioral contract prior to admission.

These students are at extremely high risk of dropping out of, or being excluded from school. Each year, about 8,000 MA high school students drop out, with far-reaching consequences for the entire state.

The average high school dropout in MA imposes a net fiscal burden of nearly $118,124 on state and federal taxpayers, whereas the average high school graduate will contribute $319,043 over the course of his or her lifetime—a gap of $437,167. Dropouts also make up 70 percent of the state’s jail and prison populations, at an average annual cost of about $46,000 per person.

Teaching Through Trauma: How Poverty Affects Kids' Brains

Southern California Public Radio

By Annie Gilbertson
June 2, 2014

Listen Now (4:25) Download
Additional Audio (4:05) Download

Teaching Through Trauma: first in a series of stories on poverty in Los Angeles schools. Read Part II here.

Training in self control starts early at Camino Nuevo. Karina Rodriguez
leads preschoolers through a motor skills exercise, asking them to start
and stop based on musical cues. Students will be exposed to 14 years
of curriculum designed to address academic and soft skills.

New research shows the mere fact of being poor can affect kids' brains, making it difficult for them to succeed in school.

Los Angeles public schools — where more than 80 percent of students live in poverty — illustrate the challenges for these students. Less than half of third graders in L.A. Unified read at grade level and 20 percent of students will have dropped out by senior year.

But researchers also offer hope. They said the right interventions can make a difference. And one school in MacArthur Park is battling biology by helping children with life as well as school — to growing success.

Children living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to suffer traumatic incidents, like witnessing or being the victims of shootings, parental neglect or abuse. They also struggle with pernicious daily stressors, including food or housing insecurity, overcrowding and overworked or underemployed, stressed-out parents.

Untreated, researchers have found these events compound, affecting many parts of the body. Studies show chronic stress can change the chemical and physical structures of the brain.

“You see deficits in your ability to regulate emotions in adaptive ways as a result of stress,” said Dr. Cara Wellman, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University.

Dendrites, which look like microscopic fingers, stretch off each brain cell to catch information. Wellman’s studies in mice show that chronic stress causes these fingers to shrink, changing the way the brain works. She found deficiencies in the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain needed to solve problems, which is crucial to learning.

Other researchers link chronic stress to a host of cognitive effects, including trouble with attention, concentration, memory and creativity.

For students in many Los Angeles public schools, those chronic stressors are everywhere.

Growing Up Hearing Gunshots

Take MacArthur Park, where Census surveys show the child poverty rate is double the California average. The neighborhood’s namesake grassy square is so crime-ridden that many parents refuse to let their children play outside.

The Los Angeles Police Department arrested 3,000 juveniles in the neighborhood in 2011 alone, the most recent data available. Most were for theft — but 14 were taken in on suspicion of homicide.

Kids here deal with parents being deported, siblings being locked up or social workers being called in to take kids away from neglectful or abusive parents. They often live in cramped, crowded apartments with two or more families.

Ana Ponce herself grew up an immigrant in MacArthur Park and thought: it’s time to change how a school tries to reach students.

“We had this understanding that we can not teach kids that are not ready to learn because they were preoccupied with all of the barriers they encountered on their way to school - or all of their fears they had leaving school,” she said.

In the early 2000s, Ponce joined the leadership of a small charter school called Camino Nuevo in her neighborhood. It has since grown to a network of eight schools.

A Different Approach

At a recent 7 a.m. meeting, Camino Nuevo elementary and middle school teachers clustered into groups, sounding a lot like social workers. Their task: to figure out how to “use positivity and relationships to reverse some of the negative effects of poverty.”

Sarah Wechsler reported a dramatic improvement in one of her students, whose mother was recently deported.

“We’ve loved him, and we’ve replaced his mom the best we can,” she said. “And he’s done all his work this week.”

Ponce said she sees the school’s job as improving the lives of students’ entire families.

Staff helps parents enroll younger siblings in preschool and hooks parents up with healthcare providers. School sites have a full-time parent liaison to provide referrals for those struggling with housing, employment or legal problems.

In group sessions, parents are taught how to participate in their children’s education and relate better to them.

Tracking Wellbeing

Camino Nuevo’s teachers are trained to track not just academic progress but also overall wellbeing.

If academics slip, they offer reading or math tutoring. In the same way, when emotional or behavior issues bubble-up, a student is referred to a counselor to develop those equally vital emotional skills.

Most schools in L.A. Unified only provide counseling for the most serious mental disorders, targeting resources to the less than 1 percent of the student population – those diagnosed with a serious emotional disturbance. (Read more on this in the second part of our series.)

At Camino Nuevo, about one in four students receives one-on-one counseling or group interventions. They don’t just talk about their problems at home, but also learn how to process emotions and make better decisions.

“They need the place to - you know – detox, so to speak. To let go. To get all this out, and to learn about themselves,” said Gloria Delacruz-Quiroz, head of mental health at Camino Nuevo.

Research shows that not all children who experience trauma will struggle emotionally. Those who feel they have support from an adult seem to do better.

Ninety-seven percent of students at Camino graduate high school, compared to 68 percent district-wide, where the rate slips even further for Latino and low-income students.

To pay for it, the school taps MediCal, California’s version of Medicaid.

The charter school created a system where its own staff works alongside private counseling service providers - including the Los Angeles Childhood Development Center and Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services – right at the schools.

The services aren’t free. Camino Nuevo scrapes together $1.6 million to cover what the providers cannot, plus a smattering of other services school leaders term their "continuum of care," which include not just counseling but things like after school programs and field trips.

A Single Mother

Camino Nuevo’s Burlington middle school campus is around the corner from where Blanca Ruiz works long hours at a nail salon.

Since she came here from Mexico years ago, she often felt she was barely keeping it together. She was sharing an apartment with her two kids and several roommates. Sometimes the stress would overwhelm her kids.

“I’m a single mother who came here with very low self-esteem, very unfocused, and with severe economic problems,” she said in Spanish. “If I was insecure, my kids would feel the same way.”

Her son Luis acted out. He got bad grades. He refused to do what his mom said and that enraged her.

“She screams because I don’t want to listen to her,” he said.

In class, sometimes Luis would stare off at his desk, checked out; other times he’d become disruptive, start talking, get up and walk around. He expressed no interest in learning and made it difficult for other students in class to stay on task.

“Sometimes I forgot, or sometimes I would decide not to do my work,” he said flatly.

In fifth grade, he was sent to the principal’s office for ignoring his teacher’s instructions. The principal suspended him from school.

Written Off?

Rather than write him off, the staff at Camino Nuevo got him to meet with a mental health counselor at the school. He also received tutoring everyday to catch up in math.

His mom went to the school’s group sessions for parents.

“I think it helped me because if you want to help your kid, you have to be emotionally stable, a clear mind and more positive,” she said.

Since she started counseling at the school, Ruiz lost fifty pounds and saved money to buy a reliable car.

Last year, Ruiz moved her kids 15 miles east to a house in El Monte with a tiny porch and big lemon tree. But there was no way she was changing schools.

She still drives Luis to Camino Nuevo in MacArthur Park every day on her way to work. Sometimes she’ll bring him a special treat of KFC for lunch.

A Turnaround

Luis’s sixth grade teacher, Sarah Wechsler, keeps a close eye on him. She tracks even the smallest details, like how often she encourages him. She wants to make sure positive reinforcements far outpace stern talk.

Wechsler said in the last year, she’s seen Luis completely turn around and take ownership of his schoolwork.

“You want to be your own man, don’t you?” she said, smiling at Luis with encouragement.

Luis still has days where he feels unfocused, and Wechsler allows him to take breaks or move to another desk. On a recent school day, Luis chose the table facing a wall. Without distraction, he hunkered down to divide fractions.

As the school year was drawing to a close, evidence of Camino Nuevo’s work – and Luis’s - became evident in one unmistakable way: He finally reached grade level in math.

How does that make him feel?

“Proud,” he said.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Cup Focuses Minds on Concussion Management

From the Associated Press
via ABC News

By John Leicester
June 23, 2014

Felled by an opponent's knee to the head as they both chased the ball, a player is seemingly out cold on a World Cup pitch. The clock is ticking. Millions are watching. National honor, careers and sponsorship dollars are at stake.

Groggily, the player wakes up and argues furiously with his team doctor that he must play on. For anyone attuned to the dangers of concussions and head injuries, this is when alarm bells ring — just as they did when this scenario unfolded at the World Cup in Brazil.

As in American football, team doctors should be able to pull a player off the field and calmly determine whether the player can continue. But that's not easy when the player himself is yelling he's OK and the doctors know that every minute they take is another minute the team must survive without that player.

And once a player is substituted, he can't return.

To give doctors more time, the world union for footballers is arguing that soccer's rules — first codified 151 years ago in a London pub — should be revised so teams can temporarily replace players while they're examined for possible concussion.

"It might take a medical practitioner at least 10-15 minutes to properly diagnose a possibly concussed player, and symptoms/signs can take longer than that to show," FIFPro said in emailed responses to questions from The Associated Press.

"Teams and players should not be disadvantaged for upholding player health and safety, or encouraged to act in a way that compromises it."

FIFA's medical chief told the AP he doesn't oppose the idea. Michel D'Hooghe also was critical of Uruguay's management of a head injury to Alvaro Pereira in a match last week against England.

Alvaro Pereira apparently knocked unconscious in Uruguay-England
match, stays in against medical advice.

Pereira inadvertently got a knee to the temple. He later said the blow knocked him out and "was like the lights went out." Team doctor Alberto Pan initially made hand signals for a substitution but then seemingly changed his mind after the clearly dizzy player furiously protested. The images provoked criticism from FIFPro, head injury specialists and others.

"I was also not happy with that situation. I must confess that," said D'Hooghe, a member of the FIFA executive and chairman of its medical committee.

D'Hooghe said one possible risk with temporary substitutions could be that players' muscles would cool while they're examined and this would make them more prone to injuries if they then are put back in play.

However, D'Hooghe said FIFPro's proposal "has also advantages. It's a discussion point for the future," he said.

D'Hooghe also said FIFA should legislate procedures for managing suspected concussions. Currently, there are FIFA-approved guidelines team doctors can follow, but they're not obliged to do so.

"I think we can make that step forward, from guideline to rule," D'Hooghe said. . "And we will do that."

The team physician for Italy, Enrico Castellacci, agreed that football needs clear rules for head injuries. Castellacci used his authority in a pre-World Cup warm-up match to prevent Alberto Aquilani from playing on after an injury.

"There should be standardized protocols — at the national, European and international levels and that still isn't the case," Castellacci said.

FIFPro said to the AP: "Binding regulations are required which ensure that player health and safety considerations override sporting ones."

Players acknowledge they can be their own worst enemies. Belgium captain Vincent Kompany played out a World Cup qualifying match against Serbia last year with a broken nose, a fractured eye socket and light concussion.

"No one in my family was very happy with the fact that I kept on playing," Kompany recalled. "I would always listen to what the medical staff has to say but, then again, I would do the opposite of what the medical staff would say."

"You have to take emotions and adrenaline into account," he said. "Unless someone puts on the emergency brake, you are not going to do it yourself."

Uruguay officials turned down an AP request to interview Pan. Coach Oscar Tabarez explained Pan's hand signals for a substitution as "a misunderstanding."

Pereira was "asked where he was, what he was doing, what was the score, and his answers were correct," the coach said. "It's funny, if not dramatic, to think that we could have been careless."

But he also acknowledged: "We work against the clock."

Headway, a brain injury association in Britain, doesn't want temporary substitutions. In an email to the AP, it said athletes shouldn't return to play at all on the day of a concussive injury. Instead, it suggests teams should simply be allowed to replace a player with a concussive injury, even if they've already exhausted their normal allotment of three substitutions.

Another potential issue with temporary substitutions would be ensuring teams don't fake head injuries to give players breathers.

Still, "any rule change that gives medical staff more time to assess an injury and ensure player safety is a good idea," said Theron Enns, director of sports medicine and head athletic trainer for the Houston Dynamo in Major League Soccer, also responding by email to questions from the AP.

"The current difficulty for all medical staffs in soccer is how to accomplish that within the current context of a running clock and limited substitutions. "

Most States Deficient In Special Education

From DisabilityScoop

By Michelle Diament
June 24, 2014

Federal education officials are dramatically altering the way they evaluate compliance with special education law and the change means far fewer states are living up to expectations.

For the first time, test scores and other outcome measures for students with disabilities are a central focus in state assessments conducted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday.

Under the law, the Education Department determines each year how well states provide special education services and assigns one of four labels: “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” “needs intervention” or “needs substantial intervention.”

Data released last year indicated that 38 states met requirements, but using the new criteria focusing on student performance federal officials said just 15 states achieved the top rating in the latest round of determinations reflecting data from the 2012-2013 school year.

“Every child, regardless of income, race, background or disability can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.”

With new criteria focusing on student outcomes, the U.S.
Dept. of Education said its latest evaluations found most states
are falling short in meeting their responsibilities under IDEA.

For this year’s IDEA determinations, the Education Department looked at participation by students with disabilities in state assessments, their performance in reading and math on the National Assessment of Education Progress and proficiency gaps between students in special education and others.

In future years, federal officials said they will expand the measures they consider to include graduation rates and possibly other factors.

The move marks a significant shift. Previously, the IDEA evaluations focused on whether or not states met procedural requirements like completing evaluations, due process hearings or transitioning children into preschool services within an appropriate timeframe.

For states, the stakes are high. IDEA requires federal officials to take action if a state is classified as needing assistance for two or more years in a row and federal funding can be withheld if a state routinely underperforms.

To help states boost their performance under the updated accountability framework, the Education Department said it will fund a new $50 million technical assistance center.

U.S. Department of Education Determinations Based on 2012-2013 Data

Meets Requirements: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Needs Assistance: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia

Needs Intervention: California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Texas

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

NESCA Behavioral Services by Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA

June 26, 2014

Led by Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA and incorporating clinicians from other disciplines, including neuropsychologists, counselors and yoga therapists, NESCA’s Behavioral Services department provides effective behavioral interventions to a variety of populations in multiple arenas.

Specialized in working with children who have complex profiles, such as those struggling with anxiety, depression, Asperger’s syndrome or autism, as well as with children who exhibit oppositional, sexualized and/or withdrawn behavior, NESCA promotes practical, evidence-based practices that can be implemented in both home and school settings.

From school staff training, behavior-intervention plan development and consultation to parent training and program consultation, NESCA helps parents and school professionals build capacity for the utilization of best practices with children.


Jessica Minahan is co-author of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students (Amazon: 5 stars; 33 reviews), and author of the soon-to-be-released The Behavior Code Companion: Strategies, Tools, and Interventions for Supporting Students With Anxiety-Related or Oppositional Behaviors.

“The Behavior Code is destined to become the handbook for every teacher who wants to understand what makes children do the things they do.”
--William S. Pollack, Harvard Medical School


Parent Training

NESCA offers a variety of programs designed to teach effective parenting in a fun and interactive format:
  • Rethinking Behavior Interventions, Skill Building and Adequate Anxiety Management
  • Theory into Practice: Preventive Real-World Strategies for Children with Anxiety
  • Effective Strategies for Children with Sexualized Behavior
  • Helping Parents Reach Their Withdrawn Child
  • Avoiding Meltdowns and Oppositional Moments with your Child
  • Behavior is Communication: Understanding Children with Challenging Behavior

School Staff Training

All of these workshops have been "road tested" and are ready for presentation to groups of any size. They feature a dynamic and interactive format with accompanying handouts and materials. Additional workshops can be developed to focus on specific clinical and behavioral issues to meet staff and student needs.

Please call 617-658-9833 for additional information.

Available Workshops
  • Rethinking Behavioral Interventions: Understanding and Teaching Students with Anxiety
  • Behavioral 
and Educational Best Practices for Students with Mental Health Disabilities
  • Accepting the Challenge: Effective Strategies for Students with Oppositional Behavior
  • Reaching the Withdrawn Child
  • Proactive, Preventative Approach for Reducing Problem Behavior for Students with Autism
  • Effective Intervention for Students with Sexualized Behavior

School Consultation

It takes a village to support a child, especially students who often struggle despite best efforts to help them. With in-depth experience working in public schools, our staff collaboratively works with schools to identify how and why commonplace school factors, along with a student’s underdeveloped skills, contribute to challenging behavior. Hands-on demonstrations show best practices for intervening practicably and effectively.

Functional Behavior Assessments

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) is a problem-solving process for addressing challenging behaviors. It is completed in order to understand why an individual engages in the behavior. Prior to increasing a desirable behavior or decreasing a problem behavior, an assessment is conducted to determine the antecedents that evoke the behavior and the consequences that maintain it.

This evaluation specifically focuses on the development of new skills to replace problem behaviors, by finding the causes of the problems and providing solutions. The FBA focuses on identifying the purposes of specific behavior, while guiding and selecting interventions to directly address the problem behavior.