Am I A Working Dad?

From The New York Times “Adventure In Parenting” section


Am I a ‘Working Dad’?


I’m a dad — two children, 9 and 7 — and I work. Hard. I fall out of bed at about 5 a.m. and stumble back there at about 10 p.m., and it seems like I haven’t caught my breath or cleared my to-do lists since my first child was born on July 22, 2002.

Yet in spite of all this unremitting labor, no one, not a single person, has ever called me a “working dad.” I’ve never called myself this.

The question on the docket is, “Why not?”

For one, “Working dad” is a weird term. An odd idea. Working dads simply don’t count as a recognized demographic in our society — a dad is a dad, and he works, of course, and to suggest otherwise is, well, strange.

But oddity isn’t necessarily a good objection. We can get used to all kinds of words. (Think “webinar”! Think “cantaloupe”!) In fact, the more I consider it, the more appropriate it seems to call me and the millions of the other dads out there schlepping around in a way that would have puzzled our cigar-chewing grandfathers “working dads.” We take working and dadding with equal seriousness and we deserve our share of the W-word.

A working mom, after all, is a term of approval. She is a master of multitasking. A mistress of multitasking. She is capable and competent on numerous fronts, and while her carpool-board-meeting-spaghetti-dinner-toothbrushing-book-bedtime lifestyle may mean that she sometimes forgets an orthodontist appointment or misses the annoying 2 p.m. staff confab, it also means that she is a kind of real-life superhero. The whole bring-home-the-bacon-and-fry-it-up-in-a-pan shtick commands our respect and admiration. The adjective “working” means that whatever else she’s doing, she’s also on the job.

My fellow dads and I deserve the same kind of respect, no?

We dudes get up every day and make breakfast. We feed the cat, take out the trash, wash the dishes, if any are left over from the night before. We can do an occasional emergency load of laundry — even if we sometimes mix lights and darks — drop the kids off, and commute to work. And then put in a full workingman’s day of labor. After which we rush home, bolt down dinner (that our wives have perhaps very kindly cooked or ordered) and shuttle our kids to soccer, guitar lessons and the rest. Then it’s overseeing homework, playing with the kids, helping them into jammies, and finally a good-night story or two. At the end of all this, we do maybe an hour of work and then collapse next to our wives.

And so on.

That’s enough to earn a “working dad” merit badge, no?

If not, if we’re encroaching on sacred woman-only territory… I have another, more modest proposal. I suggest that we give “working,” that poor, exhausted adjective, a vacation. Perhaps we can replace it with one that fits contemporary moms — and dads — better. What about “overworked”? This adjective suggests that every good contemporary parent is employed on many levels, domestic and professional, and that all our nonstop busy-ness, the unremitting demands on our energy and time and patience, means that we’re chronically wiped out.

Works for me.

Original article

Ken Gordon is a freelance writer and the Social Media Manager at the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.

Cuddle Your Kid!

Cuddle Your Kid!

A New York Times Op Ed article By

AS the presidential candidates debate how to strengthen America, maybe they can learn from rats.

A McGill University neurologist, Michael Meaney, noticed that some of the mother rats he worked with spent a great deal of time licking and grooming their babies. Other rat moms were much less cuddly.

This natural variation had long-term consequences. Meaney’s team found that when the rats grew up, those that had been licked and groomed did better at finding their way through mazes.

They were more social and curious. They even lived longer.

Meaney’s team dissected adult rats and found that licking led to differences in brain anatomy, so that rats that had been licked more were better able to control stress responses.

So, could the human version of licking and grooming — hugging and kissing babies, and reading to them — fortify our offspring and even our society as well?

One University of Minnesota study that began in the 1970s followed 267 children of first-time low-income mothers for nearly four decades. It found that whether a child received supportive parenting in the first few years of life was at least as good a predictor as I.Q. of whether he or she would graduate from high school.

This may illuminate one way that poverty replicates itself from generation to generation. Children in poor households grow up under constant stress, disproportionately raised by young, single mothers also under tremendous stress, and the result may be brain architecture that makes it harder for the children to thrive at school or succeed in the work force.

Yet the cycle can be broken, and the implication is that the most cost-effective way to address poverty isn’t necessarily housing vouchers or welfare initiatives or prison-building. Rather, it may be early childhood education and parenting programs.

Scholars like James Heckman of the University of Chicago and Dr. Jack Shonkoff of Harvard have pioneered this field, and decades of fascinating research is now wonderfully assembled in Paul Tough’s important new book, “How Children Succeed.” Long may this book dwell on the best-seller lists!

As Tough suggests, the evidence is mounting that conservatives are right about some fundamental issues relating to poverty. For starters, we can’t talk just about welfare or tax policy but must also consider culture and character.

“There is no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable,” Tough writes, than grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism.

Yet conservatives sometimes mistakenly see that as the end of the conversation.

“This science suggests a very different reality,” Tough writes. “It says that the character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which kids grow up. That means the rest of us — society as a whole — can do an enormous amount to influence their development.”

Here’s an example: the Nurse-Family Partnership, one of my favorite groups fighting poverty in America. It sends nurses on regular visits to at-risk first-time moms, from pregnancy until the child turns 2. The nurses warn about alcohol or drug abuse and encourage habits of attentive parenting, like reading to the child. The results are stunning: at age 15, these children are less than half as likely to have been arrested as kids from similar circumstances who were not enrolled.

Maybe we’re beginning to crack the code of how to chip away at so many of America’s domestic problems. Tough cites evidence that while toxic stress or unsupportive parenting damages the prefrontal cortex in infancy, this damage can often be undone at least through adolescence.

He tells the story of Kewauna Lerma, a girl from Chicago who started high school with a C- average and an arrest. Then a group called OneGoal, which has emerged out of this wave of research, began to work with Kewauna and nurtured her ambitions and talents.

President Obama and Mitt Romney, listen up: Kewauna’s story underscores that strengthening our nation means investing not only in warships but also in America’s children.

On a practice ACT standardized test, Kewauna scored in the bottom 1 percentile. Yet she began to focus on schoolwork, and her grades and test results soared. In her senior year of high school, she didn’t have a grade lower than an A-.

She made it to college, where her toughest class was biology and the professor used words that Kewauna didn’t understand. So she sat in the front row and after class asked the professor what each word meant. Kewauna was short on money, and once when she ran out of cash she didn’t eat for two days. But in biology, she earned an A+.

Admitted, but Left Out

Here’s an interesting and concerning article about diversity in independent schools.  The article gives us much to consider as we know the importance of creating a safe school environment where all are accepted, heard and appreciated.


Admitted, but Left Out

Left, Collection of Idris Brewster; right, Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Ayinde Alleyne, left, graduated from the Trinity School in 2011. He attends the University of Pennsylvania.
Published: October 19, 2012

WHEN Ayinde Alleyne arrived at the Trinity School, an elite independent school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, he was eager to make new friends. A brainy 14-year-old, he was the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, a teacher and an auto-body repairman, in the South Bronx. He was soon overwhelmed by the privilege he saw. Talk of fancy vacations and weekends in the Hamptons rankled — “I couldn’t handle that at that stage of my life,” said Mr. Alleyne, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania — and he eventually found comfort in the school’s “minority corner,” where other minority students, of lesser means, hung out.

In 2011, when Mr. Alleyne was preparing to graduate, seniors were buzzing about the $1,300-per-student class trip to the Bahamas.

He recalls feeling stunned when some of his classmates, with whom he had spent the last four years at the school, asked him if he planned to go along.

“How do I get you to understand that going to the Bahamas is unimaginable for my family?” he said in a recent interview. “My family has never taken a vacation.”

It was a moment of disconnection, a common theme in conversations with minority students who have attended the city’s top-drawer private schools.

There is no doubt that New York City’s most prestigious private schools have made great strides in diversifying their student bodies. In classrooms where, years ago, there might have been one or two brown faces, today close to one-third of the students are of a minority. During the 2011-12 school year, 29.8 percent of children at the city’s private schools were minority students, including African-American, Hispanic and Asian children, according to the National Association of Independent Schools, up from 21.4 percent a decade ago. (Nationally, the figure was 26.6 percent for the same period, up from 18.5 percent 10 years before.)

But schools’ efforts to attract minority students haven’t always been matched by efforts to truly make their experience one of inclusion, students and school administrators say. Pervading their experience, the students say, is the gulf between those with seemingly endless wealth and resources and those whose families are struggling, a divide often reflected by race.

Schools have aggressively recruited minority families that pay all costs in full, to break the perception that they are always the ones receiving financial aid. But a connection persists. At the Calhoun School, also on the Upper West Side, 32 percent of the student body is made up of minority children, and 70 percent of them receive some form of financial aid (a figure that has decreased markedly in recent years). Spending on financial aid at the school grew to $3.6 million last year from $1.7 million a decade ago. (It now represents 14.8 percent of total expenses, up from 14.1 percent over that same period.)

At Trinity, where 37 percent of students are from a minority group, financial aid spending ran to $5.7 million last year, up from $2.7 million 10 years ago (13 percent of expenses, up from 11 percent). Minority students represent 38 percent of the student body at the Dalton School, on the Upper East Side, where financial aid totaled $7.8 million last year, up from $3.9 million a decade earlier (13 percent of expenses, up from 12 percent).

David Addams, the executive director of the Oliver Scholars Program, which recruits low- and middle-income African-American and Latino students and helps guide them through private schools, says the report card is mixed. “These schools have gotten better at providing opportunities for X number of kids, but once there, how well does the school community embrace them and support them in succeeding as well as any other member of the community?” he asked.

The schools point to efforts to hire diversity directors, create forums for discussion about race and privilege, and design mentoring programs to help students find connections. But several new film projects at some of these schools cast a bright light on the sometimes fraught intersection of race and class, and how the two play out in some New York City independent schools.

The film projects at Dalton, Calhoun and Trinity are independent of one another and are at different stages of completion. The Trinity film, “Allowed to Attend,” in which Mr. Alleyne appears, was made by Kevin D. Ramsey, the school’s director of communications, and has been shown at the school. At Dalton, the filmmaker parents of an African-American student tracked their son and a friend through their years at the school and are preparing their documentary for broadcast on public television next year. Calhoun is just embarking on its project. But footage from the films and interviews with students and administrators involved with them reveal that initiatives to diversify some of the most elite schools have proved more challenging than glossy brochures and perfectly balanced multiracial imagery on Web sites might indicate.

Students report feeling estranged, studying among peers who often lack any awareness about their socioeconomic status and the differences it entails. They describe a racism that materializes not in insults, but more often in polite indifference, silence and segregation. Albert, an Asian-American boy in “Allowed to Attend,” says: “You can do a lot of psychological damage to people by ignoring them for an extended period of time. For, like, four years.”

DJ BANTON had never fit in at her neighborhood school in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Children there called her an Oreo — black on the outside, white on the inside — because of the way she talked, and because she got good grades. So when she was accepted at Trinity for the seventh grade through the Prep for Prep program, she hoped she would find children like herself, students who liked to study and listen to Top 40 songs and watch anime. She craved new friendships and deep connections, perhaps the only surefire inoculation against the perpetual loneliness of adolescence.

Those hopes didn’t pan out, at least not for many years. “I left one school where I felt I didn’t belong and went to one where I thought I would belong, and realized I didn’t belong in ways I couldn’t surmount,” Ms. Banton, who appears in “Allowed to Attend,” said in an interview. In elementary school, she said, she could pretend to be “blacker” — change the way she talked, pretend to like music that she didn’t. But at Trinity, “the differences were in money and in the way I was raised,” she said. “I had never been to camp, and I couldn’t change or control that.”

Many of the themes explored are common to any adolescence: where to sit in the cafeteria, dating, parties, homework, tutors. But these issues also intersect with race, wealth and privilege. Minority students talk about feeling overwhelmed by the resources they are suddenly confronted with, and many feel forced to pick between their personal roots and the golden promise of a new peer group with greater wealth. They struggle to bridge the two worlds, and some grapple with guilt if they pull away from neighborhood friends. They describe feeling like a guest at someone’s house: you can stay and look, but you don’t belong.

“The only people who could relate to what I was feeling were minorities, or they were poor,” Ms. Banton, now studying at the University of Southern California, said. “It became linked in my mind — rich, white; minority, poor.”

The emotions are raw, even years later. When Katherine Tineo, who is Afro-Dominican, was accepted at Brown University, she remembers her classmates at Calhoun telling her that it was a result of affirmative action. She stood up in a school town hall meeting and explained, through tears, that she believed that she had been admitted on the merits of her application — her good grades and her efforts to create awareness about multiculturalism at Calhoun.

Recounting the experience seven years later, Ms. Tineo, now 25, broke down again. “To say I got into a school because of my color and not because of my efforts?” she asked, her voice cracking. “I didn’t come from similar places from them, so they thought I didn’t amount to the same thing.”

The project at Trinity was inspired by an earlier film, “The Prep School Negro,” a documentary completed in 2008 and re-edited in 2012 by André Robert Lee, which explores what it means to be poor and black in a wealthy, mostly white school. The film examines his experience at Germantown Friends, an elite day school in Philadelphia, and his attempts as an adult to understand his education and socialization. As a student, he received a “life-changing” education, he said, discovered new worlds and even found a white, upper-class “adoptive” family.

But as he gravitated to his new world, he slowly divorced himself from his poor, urban past, which included his mother, sister and friends. “I lost a major connection with my family, and I lost an understanding of what true intimacy and connection with people is,” he said.

Mr. Lee has spoken at more than 200 schools, and at a screening of the film at Trinity, Ms. Banton asked him to elaborate on how he had bridged the gap between old and new friends. She was struggling with the same issue; her best friend, one she used to play with nearly every day in Flatbush, now seemed distant and angry. “You wonder, ‘Is it my fault for changing or her fault for not?’ ” Ms. Banton said.

Conversations with Ms. Banton about “The Prep School Negro” prompted Mr. Ramsey to make “Allowed to Attend,” which was filmed during the last three weeks of school in 2011 and includes four other minority students, their families and friends. (The entire senior class was given the chance to participate in the film.) The administration gave Mr. Ramsey permission to produce the film, and the students in it approved the final version; Ms. Banton also made a copy available to The New York Times.

Trinity’s upper-school head, Jessica Bagby, said she cried when she watched the film. “They were so brave in telling their story; they were so courageous,” she said. “But I was heartbroken that their experience was what it was.”

That experience included the different places where students congregated, with the white, popular students hanging out in the “swamp,” or student lounge, and the minority children taking over the red staircase. It involved a divide between those with weekend houses and limitless lunch budgets and students like DJ, who could not afford to spend $8 a day at the diner. And it included a teacher mixing up black girls who look nothing alike. One young woman, Cece, explains in the film that she could not feel pretty when the standard of beauty — white, skinny, tall — was something she could never be.

“It’s hard for me to get a guy to pay attention to me in a predominantly white school, because I’m black, and that’s miserable,” Cece says. “From September to June, there’s not a day that I feel pretty.”

The Dalton film, “American Promise,” is a 12-year project undertaken by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, two Brooklyn filmmakers, whose son, Idris Brewster, started at Dalton in kindergarten along with his best friend, Oluwaseun Summers, who goes by the name Seun. Idris graduated in June and now attends Occidental College in Los Angeles; Seun left after eighth grade, after years of academic and social struggle. He graduated from Benjamin Banneker Academy, a predominantly African-American high school in Brooklyn, and attends the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Idris Brewster has fond memories of Dalton. He hated middle school, but enjoyed high school. He made wonderful friends, and said Dalton’s mentoring program helped him connect to other African-American boys at the school. The school provided him the support he needed and the opportunity to branch out. “I met different kinds of people than I would have met at a public school, or in my neighborhood,” he said, equating his education to living in a different culture for 12 years.

But his close friends were all African-American, and racial divides were pervasive. “We’re excluded from the whites,” he said, describing the cafeteria as “whites on one side and blacks on the other.” He did not assign blame to Dalton, and said that much of the issue was simply economic. Most of the black students were not wealthy, he said, so “they have less in common with the whites, who are extremely rich.”

Seun’s mother, Stacey Summers, recalls feeling elated when he got into Dalton. She was happy to take part in the film. “I wanted to chronicle his journey because it would be filled with success, and it would be rosy, rosy, rosy,” she said. “I was naïve.”

“You are thinking going in that all the children are bright and capable,” she added. “The longer you are in the system, you realize what children and parents have to endure to keep up with that level.” Many families paid for expensive private tutors, and other support for their children that she could not afford.

Seun struggled academically and socially. Play dates were difficult. Parents could not, or would not, come to their Brooklyn neighborhood. Some who declined to visit the borough offered to have Seun to their homes, but his mother felt she was imposing. “He never had a friend come to Brooklyn,” she said. She felt like an outsider.

Ms. Stephenson and Mr. Brewster had to get permission every year from Dalton’s board to film in the school, according to a former trustee. They hope that “American Promise,” scheduled to be broadcast on public television in 2013, and the book that accompanies it will be constructive in addressing the issue they say is paramount: the achievement gap between African-American boys and their white counterparts.

“This is not about what Dalton didn’t do for us, or what white people didn’t do for us; it’s about what are the needs of these boys and how can we provide it,” Mr. Brewster said. The conversations in the documentaries, and interviews with the participants, suggest that talk of a postracial society is just that. “As soon as someone says ‘postracial,’ I say, ‘Who was at the last dinner party and who came to the wedding?’ That one friend doesn’t count,” Mr. Lee, the “Prep School Negro” filmmaker, said.

STEVEN J. NELSON, the head of Calhoun, said that there were certain inevitable realities for minority families at the school: At some point, one parent will be mistaken for a nanny or a service worker. African-American boys will be frisked by the police, or followed inside a store.

“Students, and these are nice kids, too easily assume ‘I’m a white kid in this nice Upper West Side school, and that kid is a brown kid in this nice Upper West Side school; my understanding of us can stop there,’ ” he said. Conversations have to move beyond the surface, he said.

To help that process along, Calhoun recently won $243,063 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to produce a film and develop a curriculum and a Web site. The film will be created by Point Made Films, which produced “The Prep School Negro.”

Clayton Wortmann, a former Trinity student who participated in that school’s documentary, agreed it was important to start a conversation. “The level of silence is astounding,” he said in an interview. “Everyone is too nice to talk about it.”

He said the film reminded him of the essay “Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace. “Do you think about these things? Do you think about how little you think about these things?” he said, paraphrasing the essay, which is about the cruelty of killing and eating the crustaceans. “That’s what the film will do. It will get people to think about how little they think about it.”

Original article

Boys Now Enter Puberty Younger, Study Suggests, but It’s Unclear Why

Boys Now Enter Puberty Younger, Study Suggests, but It’s Unclear Why

Published: October 20, 2012

A large study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that boys are entering puberty earlier now than several decades ago — or at least earlier than the time frame doctors have historically used as a benchmark.

The study, widely considered the most reliable attempt to measure puberty in American boys, estimates that boys are showing signs of puberty six months to two years earlier than was reported in previous research, which historically taught that 11 ½ was the general age puberty began in boys. But experts cautioned that because previous studies were smaller or used different approaches, it is difficult to say how much earlier boys might be developing.

The study echoes research on girls, which has now established a scientific consensus that they are showing breast development earlier than in the past.

The study, which was to be announced at the Academy of Pediatrics national conference on Saturday and published online in the journal Pediatrics, did not try to determine what might be causing earlier puberty, although it mentioned changes in diet, less physical activity and other environmental factors as possibilities. Experts said that without further research, implications for boys are unclear.

“This should perhaps set a standard going forward for being very attentive to puberty in boys and being mindful that they’re developing earlier,” said Dolores J. Lamb, a molecular endocrinologist at Baylor College of Medicine and president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. She was not involved in the study.

Praising the study as well done, she said, “Whether the difference is as large as what they say on some papers 40 years ago is not clear.” However, she added, “this is going to be incredibly useful to pediatricians and urologists.”

The new study also found that African-American boys began puberty earlier than whites and Hispanics, a result that other studies have shown also applies to African-American girls. Researchers said that difference is most likely driven by the role of genes in puberty.

On average, black boys in the study showed signs of puberty, primarily identified as growth of the testicles, at a little older than 9, while white and Hispanic boys were a little older than 10.

Several experts said the study should not be seized upon as cause for alarm, but rather as a way to help parents and doctors gauge what to be aware of in boys’ development and whether to start conversations about social issues sooner.

“It was an important study to do, and their methodology is improved over prior studies in that they based their assessment of puberty in boys on what I consider to be the gold standard: the size of the testicles,” said Dr. Laura Bachrach, a professor of pediatric endocrinology at Stanford University.

But the study should not prompt a magazine “cover article that shows a 9-year-old boy shaving,” Dr. Bachrach said. And because some parents fear that early puberty is related to more hormones in milk — speculation that is unproven — “I don’t want people to get up in arms and rush out and buy organic milk,” she said. “When patients ask me, I say, ‘Do that for political reasons or because you like the taste, but don’t do it because you think it’s going to influence puberty.’ ”

For the study, researchers enlisted about 200 pediatricians in 41 states to record information on 4,131 healthy boys ages 6 to 16 during their well-child exams. Physicians were trained to use an orchidometer, a string of oval wooden or plastic beads of increasing size that are compared against the size of the testicles. Urologists use orchidometers to measure testicular volume when men have fertility concerns. Normal adult size is about 22 to 25 milliliters, Dr. Lamb said. In boys, 2 milliliters is pre-pubertal; some doctors consider 3 milliliters and others 4 milliliters as an indicator of puberty, so the study included analysis for both sizes.

Doctors in the study also evaluated boys using the Tanner scale, a five-stage ranking system developed from a 40-year-old British study. While Tanner is the textbook benchmark, doctors increasingly consider it outmoded because it involved only 228 white boys in juvenile detention in London and evaluated them from photographs.

In the new study doctors also took note of pubic hair, but, said Dr. Bachrach, “pubic hair is very very misleading” because it is a later, less predictable indicator.

The study’s lead author, Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, a child and maternal health specialist at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, said she originally proposed an additional measure used in Europe: identifying through urinalysis, or by asking, if boys had begun to ejaculate. But she said that urinalysis would have made the study more expensive, and colleagues reviewing the proposal “just freaked out” about the prospect of asking boys about ejaculation, wondering, “How would a child understand that?”

Dr. Herman-Giddens led a large study on girls’ puberty in 1997, and its conclusion that girls were developing earlier generated great controversy. Now, though, experts generally agree that subsequent research has shown breast development as young as 7 or 8. With menstruation, however, studies conflict: some suggest it is starting earlier, while others suggest the age has not changed much. Experts said this could mean that puberty is beginning sooner but lasting longer, or that different physiological processes underlie breast development and menstruation.

With girls, there is also scientific consensus that heavier girls enter puberty earlier, which makes sense, experts said, because body fat is tied to estrogen production.

In the study of boys, weight was not analyzed intensively, but the heaviest boys were developing earlier than what Dr. Herman-Giddens called “the little bitty skinny boys.” Experts said it is unclear if weight gain precipitates puberty or is a consequence.

Some experts said that while earlier development in girls can be worrisome because girls may be treated as more socially mature than they are, implications for boys are uncertain.

“With girls, the first signs are obvious, and social ramifications are much more pronounced and they’re negative,” said Dr. William P. Adelman, associate professor of pediatrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the Academy of Pedatrics committee on adolescents. But early-maturing boys “get called on more in school, tend to be better athletes. I’m less likely to get a parent of a boy saying, ‘Oh my gosh, my boy’s developing — he’s too young,’ ” Dr. Adelman said. More common is, “My boy, he’s a freshman in high school, his best friend is 6 feet already and he’s 4-11.”

Dr. Frank M. Biro, a puberty researcher and director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said there are some common implications for girls and boys.

“If kids are looking older, it means that parents should be monitoring them, because that superego doesn’t kick in until late teens or early 20s,” he said. “The kids need a hand. Know what they’re doing.”

Original article

Sacred Heart Partners With Renowned Cold Spring Harbor Lab

From Greenwich Time:


Natalie Ponce, of Port Chester, N.Y., and Caitlan Fealing, 15, of Stamford, look at worms in an microscope during Dr. Bruce Nash, of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, meets with Upper School classes to discuss gene therapy at Convent of the Sacred Heart on Monday, October 15, 2012. Convent of the Sacred Heart is the third school, and the first Connecticut-based school, to become a charter member of the Cold Spring Harbor genetics lab. Photo: Helen Neafsey / Greenwich Time


There were more to the tiny worms that Convent of the Sacred Heart sophomores saw through microscopes than meets the eye.

On Monday, the students, part of the school’s science research program, were introduced to C. elegans, a worm used to study gene regulation and function. The students learned about how the worms formed the basis for cutting-edge research into aging and even cancer.

The lesson, given by visiting scientist Bruce Nash, kicked off a partnership between Sacred Heart and the world-renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory‘s DNA Learning Center. The laboratory, across the Sound on Long Island, N.Y., was once run by James Watson, who, with Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA.

Sacred Heart is the first Connecticut school to become a charter member of the DNA Learning Center, joining The Chapin School and Trinity School in New York City.

Each student in the science research program works for three years on an independent project. Through the partnership, students interested in exploring genetics will have the opportunity to visit the laboratory as they work on projects.

“So many of them want to go into the medical field, and several of them mentioned genetics,” said Mary Musolino, director of the Upper School’s science research program. “That’s why it’s such a perfect fit.”

The charter membership also includes opportunities for field trips to the lab, as well as summer enrichment programs. The charter membership, which costs $25,000, was made possible by gifts from the school’s Parents’ Association and by the family of Indra Nooyi.

Through the partnership, Middle and Upper School students will receive instruction from the laboratory’s scientists, as the sophomores did Monday. Nash discussed C. elegans, which he referred to as “sort of like the fruit fly of the worm world” and which have cells that behave similarly to human cells.

The students examined petri dishes of regular worms and worms with genetic mutations through microscopes. Nash explained that in research, genes of the worm have been changed, extending their lives of just a few days by 15 times.

Sophomore Lily Pillari said she became interested in genetics after reading articles to help her come up with an idea for her research project.

“It was very informative,” Pillari, 15, said of the inaugural lesson with Nash.

Pillari’s classmate, Mo Narasimhan, said she hopes to one day study the role of genetics in mental disorders, such as anorexia.

“I’d done a little bit of reading on Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, but today’s discussion was very interesting,” said Narasimhan, 16.

Nash, co-author of the textbook “Genome Science,” mainly works with high school and undergraduate students doing independent research projects, and teaches labs and lectures to students, as well as instructors.

“I think they’re great because we can give a more direct link between the students and what researchers do,” Nash said of the partnerships between schools and the lab. “It gives students a good chance at actually doing some science and doing science with tools researchers are currently using.”; 203-625-4439;

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Should Your Child Be Using an E-Reader?

Should Your Child Be Using an E-reader?

Should Your Child Be Using an E-reader? -- Mom's Homeroom -- © OJO Images/Justin Pumfrey/Workbook Stock/Getty Images

By Linda Johns

Last month I asked a book group of 7- and 8-year-old girls if they would help add titles to my “must read” list. Their enthusiastic recommendations came quickly and I hastily jotted down titles, not wanting to miss a single one. Somewhere between Goddess Girls and Cinderella Smith I heard something I hadn’t expected: One girl mentioned a digital reader.

“I read that one on my e-reader,” she said. Another girl chimed in with a book she’d read on her mom’s tablet when they were on vacation, which reminded her of another book she didn’t want me to miss, which reminded another girl of yet another book. The conversation continued, with young readers talking about books without getting hung up on the format of the book.

This group of girls gave me a valuable look at how our children view reading: They care more about the story and the experience than the format. Each of these girls had been to a public library in the past week and they were all regular customers at the independent bookstore where they meet each month. Books bought from bookstores, books checked out of the library and books downloaded to a device are all a part of their regular mix. If this is the future of reading, I’ll take it.

You’ve undoubtedly seen or read stories about toddlers and preschoolers using apps on their parents’ tablets, but there’s been very little information about elementary age students and e-readers. Studies about adults and digital books tend to look at consumer habits, but since readers are consuming books (always a good thing, right?) we can see some general trends about how people interact with downloadable books.

Adults who read e-books tend to read more books (an average of 24 per year, compared with 15 per year for print-only readers), according to results released in April 2012 from a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Anecdotally, adult readers say that they are more likely (or at least think they will be more likely) to pick up something to read if it’s conveniently loaded onto a device they can slip into a purse or work bag. Many of the adults I talk with at my library first take the digital plunge because of travel, particularly if there is a multi-week trip in their future. Carrying six or seven books may not be feasible, and the ease of taking many books on your e-reader lightens the load and also assures that there’s a backup book if you don’t like the one you have.

Vacations often provide children’s first initiation into e-readers, too. Jenny Blackburn and her husband gave their son a tablet for his ninth birthday, which was shortly before a family vacation. “I loaded it with books before we left, so his first experience with reading it was on the airplane,” Blackburn says. “I could tell that he felt very grown-up. He read for hours and seemed to like it.”

Darcy Brixey downloaded a variety of free books to her own e-reader to see what might grab the interest of her 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter during a long flight. “The kids would sit together and read on the plane,” says Brixey, a librarian and chair of Children’s and Young Adult Services at the Washington Library Association. (Books from the All About Pets series were winners on that flight.) “Now if my son sees me reading on my e-reader, he wants it,” she says.

The novelty of a new device can be intriguing to young readers, and a survey of 1,000 students by Bowker Market Research found that younger siblings are taking to e-readers even more than their big brothers and sisters. Readers under 12 were more likely to think of e-books as “fun and cool,” while older teenagers leaned toward print preferences. The number of hours a teen spends each day with a laptop and phone could easily lessen the novelty of another digital device. In fact, the print book may seem like a prized diversion for teens.

For many of us, we’re constantly looking for ways to encourage our children to read for pleasure. Turns out nearly half the parents in one recent study think that e-readers and tablets might be the golden ticket, especially for reluctant or struggling readers. Close to 50 percent of parents said they think electronic devices will encourage their children to read, according to a study by the Reading Agency, a literacy organization in the U.K.

“My daughter definitely likes the fact that it’s a gadget,” said a Seattle mother who was comparison-shopping devices for her 11-year-old. “She’s easily distracted, so I want to get one that is just about books and reading. It’s way too easy to click on something else and soon be playing games or going online.”

Reading apps on tablets have big appeal — and possibilities — for toddlers and preschoolers as well.

Being able to change the size of the font is a feature that was first touted mostly for older people (especially if their reading glasses have a habit of being easily misplaced). That same feature has a lot of advantages for beginning readers, newly independent readers and reluctant readers. Also, the size can easily be adjusted, so an older child who benefits from reading larger type can quickly scale it down if he feels self-conscious when others are around.

One of the biggest advantages Blackburn has seen for her son is that he can use the adjustable font size for finding the spot where he left off. “He frequently loses his place in chapter books, and this causes him to get frustrated and stop reading. With the tablet, we adjust the font to be larger so that there are less words on the page. This helps a lot.”

Other built-in features help readers interact with the text. “Some books have a read-aloud function, and when there’s that option my kids love to click on it,” says Brixey. Sometimes there are also recording features, which can be a fun way for a child to practice reading aloud. A family member can record the story so that the child will hear a familiar voice reading.

One friend of mine likes the convenience of sharing e-readers, which enable more than one person to read a book at a time. Members of her family share an account for downloading the books that they buy. She and her 9-year-old daughter, who is a voracious reader, can read the same books at the same time — and then talk about them.

Free downloadable books from the library can also be shared among family members. What? You didn’t know that libraries have digital books? Many libraries offer digital books for all ages in a variety of formats that work with major brands of e-readers and tablets. See what your library has — you may be surprised at the options and the flexibility.

I keep thinking back to that book group of young readers I visited with last month. While some adults I know seem to think that reading formats represent an either/or scenario — either print or digital — those girls are growing up in a world where there are choices for print and digital.

Adults with e-readers and tablets continue to report that they’re reading more, a trend that we can hope trickles down to younger readers. After all, we should always be happy seeing children reading, no matter the format.

Linda Johns is a children’s author and a librarian at the Seattle Public Library.

Original article

Malala Yousafzai, the Girl Shot by the Taliban, Becomes a Global Icon

Malala Yousafzai, the Girl Shot by the Taliban, Becomes a Global Icon

By Ron Synovitz

Not quite what the Pakistan-based terrorist cell TTP had in mind
malala banner.jpg

Students hold a placard during a rally to condemn the attack on Yousufzai in Peshawar, Pakistan. (Fayaz Aziz/Reuters)


In December, when the United Nations declared October 11 as the date for an annual “International Day of the Girl Child,” it said attention needed to be focused on promoting girls’ rights. On October 11, when the newly minted UN day made its debut, global attention was focused on Malala Yousafzai — the 14-year-old schoolgirl from Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley who was shot this week by the Pakistani Taliban for defending her right to an education.

The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) expected to silence her campaign, which she had carried out since the age of 11 through an online diary she wrote for the BBC. Instead, they created an international icon for girls’ rights and made her known the world over simply as “Malala.”

At the European Union headquarters in Brussels on October 11, young schoolgirls at a launch event for “Day of The Girl Child” held up photos of Malala along with signs saying “Save The Girls.” On social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, Malala was hailed as a brave girl whose story epitomizes the need for the UN day.

Stuart Coles, a spokesman for the international development charity “Plan,” an organization that has been campaigning for the education rights of children for 75 years, says that social media appears to have latched onto Malala’s story. “The public backlash has been very strong against this terrible event. And I think, inadvertently, she has become an example of the problems and the issues that many girls are facing across the world,” Coles says. “It is an incredibly sad, tragic, event. But it is a reminder, really, of the dangers and risks that girls face when they are campaigning for rights and the right to education in some parts of the world.”

A statement tweeted by UNICEF on October 11 said, “Today our thoughts are with Malala Yousafzai, the inspirational 14-year-old activist for girls’ rights.” Meanwhile, concerned activists forwarded Pakistani media reports about Malala’s transfer to a hospital in Rawalpindi after surgeons removed a bullet that passed through her head and lodged in her shoulder.

Social Campaigns

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times tweeted links to his most recent opinion piece about the shooting. Kristof called the attack on Malala a reminder “that the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century, equivalent to the campaigns against slavery in the 19th century and against totalitarianism in the 20th century.” He also shared information on how readers can “honor Malala” by donating to global organizations dedicated to the promotion of education rights for girls.

The Global Fund for Women also called for donations to the cause of girls’ rights, saying: “Ironically, the attack on Malala falls the same week as the first International Day of the Girl Child.” Other online activists shared links to an October 10 editorial in The New York Times about the attack on Malala.

“If Pakistan has a future, it is embodied in Malala Yousafzai,” the editorial reads. “Malala has shown more courage in facing down the Taliban than Pakistan’s government and its military leaders …. The murderous violence against one girl was committed against the whole Pakistani society. The Taliban cannot be allowed to win this vicious campaign against girls, learning and tolerance. Otherwise, there is no future for that nation.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the nongovernment watchdog group UN Watch, circulated an online petition calling for Pakistan to be blocked from getting a seat on the UN Human Rights Council until the government “stops those who shoot little girls.”

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, social networks also were being used to organize a candlelight vigil in Karachi for Malala — a follow-up to a prayer gathering on October 11 that brought out thousands of supporters, many of them women. Across the rest of the country, Pakistanis from a broad political and religious spectrum have united in outrage and revulsion at the attack.

As Pakistani politicians line up to condemn the shooting, commentators are pondering whether the tragedy can galvanize public opinion against the Pakistani Taliban enough to support a large military offensive against them. If that becomes the case, the Taliban gun that was fired at a schoolgirl to enforce a radical interpretation of Islam will officially have backfired.

Sacrificing Sleep for Study Time Doesn’t Make the Grade

Sacrificing Sleep for Study Time Doesn’t Make the Grade

Posted: 10/09/2012 8:06 am


Kids are back in school. Students (and parents) said goodbye to the freewheeling days of summer and returned to the structure of the academic year. The school routine typically includes early mornings and, often, late nights of homework and studying.

For students, there is increasing pressure to perform well academically, especially as they enter high school and college is on the horizon. Academic workloads increase, and so do time commitments to other extracurricular activities, including sports. It can be a real challenge to find enough time for all of this activity, and it’s not hard to see how bedtime gets pushed back later and later to make room for studying.

It might seem like a reasonable sacrifice to give up a little sleep to hit the books late into the night, but research says this strategy doesn’t work. This study found that students who stay up late doing homework are more likely to have academic problems the next day. This is true regardless of how much overall studying the student does, according to the study results.

Researchers at UCLA examined the daily sleep and study habits of 535 students in grades 9, 10, and 12. All the students were enrolled in Los Angeles schools and represented a range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups. For two weeks, students kept diaries recording their daily study amounts and sleep amounts. They also kept track of two different types of academic problems:

• Having trouble understanding material being taught in class
• Doing poorly on tests, quizzes, or homework assignments

Researchers found that opting to delay bedtime in favor of studying was linked to an increased risk of both types of academic difficulty. And this was true regardless of the total amount of students’ study time.

The remedy to this problem is not to study less, but rather to create a schedule that allows for sufficient study time and sufficient sleep time. Is that easier said than done? Probably. But as these results indicate, extra study time at the expense of sleep is likely to create academic problems, not solve them. And students who regularly stay up late are exposed to other risks of low sleep. Here’s some of what we know about how insufficient sleep can negatively affect teens:

• Teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to engage in risky and unhealthful behaviors. This study found low sleep was linked to increased likelihood of smoking, drinking, drug use, and fighting, among other risky behaviors.

• Teens who sleep less are more likely to gain weight. We know that low sleep is associated with weight gain, in children as well as adults. This study found that teens who sleep less are more likely to consume more total calories in a day, as well as to eat higher fat foods and more snack foods than teens who get enough sleep.

• Teens who are short on sleep are more likely to feel depressed and anxious. There’s substantial evidence that teens with sleep problems are at higher risk for mental health and behavioral problems. This National Sleep Foundation survey found that teens short on sleep were significantly more likely to experience depression, stress, excessive worrying, and anxiety.

Teenagers, as any parent knows, are predisposed to staying up late and sleeping late, which complicates things even further. This is a biological reality, not just a teenage preference! It’s not always easy to manage a teenager’s sleep schedule. Here are some strategies that can help:

• Keep technology out of the bedroom. Electronic and digital devices have no place in the bedroom. Exposure to the light emitted by these devices is disruptive to sleep, and their presence at bedtime can keep teens awake — or even keep them engaged in activity while they are asleep!

• Work backward to find the right bedtime. Teens need more sleep than adults, about nine hours per night. To find the appropriate bedtime, start by identifying what time your teen needs to be rising from bed. From there, work backward to set the bedtime that will ensure your teenager gets enough rest.

• Let them sleep in a little on the weekends — just not a lot. With biological and hormonal changes making teens inclined to sleep later, after a week of school your teenager may want to spend most of Saturday in bed. This much sleep isn’t healthy and will actually make your teen feel more tired, not less. Such a variation from the weekday routine will throw your teen’s schedule off course. This doesn’t mean a little sleeping in isn’t okay. Letting your teenager sleep for an extra hour or two on weekend mornings is fine.

We all want our kids to study hard and achieve academic success. It’s important to remember that sleep is a critical part of the equation.

Sweet Dreams,
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™

Parenting Styles From Around the World

Parenting Styles from Around the World

From blowing off bedtime to potty training a 6-month-old, what you can learn from the cultural differences of parents from other countries
By Mei-Ling Hopgood
"Parenting Styles from Around the World"  Baby sitting next to a globe  Photo: Courtesy of Parenting

We are dining out with friends in Buenos Aires, sipping Malbec from short glass tumblers at a hole-in-the-wall steakhouse. The crowd is lively; the waiters charmingly surly. But what has really captivated our table is the family sitting to our right. It’s 11:30 p.m., and a toddler and a baby are bouncing on laps as they gnaw on bread rolls.

Our American guests are aghast. Shouldn’t those kids be in bed?

Raising my young daughters in Buenos Aires helped put my American obsession with finding perfect methods in perspective. Keeping kids up all hours goes against the advice I’d heard from friends and parental pundits. Yet Argentine children don’t seem to suffer. I think kids there behave as well as your average American child, and often better, in social settings.

There are universals when it comes to raising kids: A child needs enough sleep, food, and nurturing to thrive. But how we meet those necessities varies wildly depending on your latitude. French children are taught to eat mussels and stinky cheeses. Fathers in the African Aka pygmy tribe are intimately involved with childcare. They strap their infants into slings and take them on elephant hunts, and will even offer a nipple to soothe a fussy baby. The Chinese potty train their little ones starting at 6 months. (Their secret: pants that split along the butt seam.) Unlike American parents who intervene when kids scuffle, many Japanese let them fight with minimal intervention so they can learn to live harmoniously in a group setting.

Argentines — and Italians and Egyptians, among others — have family gatherings that last long into the night. To them, dinner is sacred family bonding time, and it would be an absolute shame for the kiddies to miss it.

My daughter Sofia is a social butterfly, a combination, I think, of her nature and her Argentine upbringing. During a night out with friends, she’d snooze at our favorite restaurant (the owners always gave us a booth with plenty of pillows). When I fretted about her broken routines, even my Argentine pediatrician told me, “Relajate, che. Ya va a pasar.” Relax. This will pass.

That advice is über-useful for a control-freak mom like me. We can get so focused on declaring what’s best, when there are many ways to be a good parent. By stepping beyond our borders, we can discover all kinds of new ideas and approaches. By doing so, each of us can create our own parenting style that’s quite literally the best of all worlds.

Preventing Sports Concussions Among Children

Preventing Sports Concussions Among Children

The New York Times

Published: October 6, 2012

This fall, about three million children younger than 14 are playing organized tackle football in the United States. Is that a good thing?

For many parents and coaches, that means three million children are getting some pretty serious exercise, hanging out with old friends and making new ones, and unplugging from technology, for a few hours at least.

I see those positives. Yet if it were my call, those millions would be playing touch football instead. Many would be learning the fundamentals of tackling and other football skills. But they would not be playing tackle football until they turned 14.

The reason is simple. Tackle football is too dangerous for youngsters. Exposure to head trauma is too risky. What we know about football and the vulnerabilities of children’s brains leads me to this conclusion. More worrisome is what we don’t know. How will the hits absorbed by a 9-year-old today be felt at 30, or 50?

I’ve been treating young athletes for concussions and other head trauma for four decades. In an average year, I’ll meet with patients to discuss their concussion symptoms 1,500 times or more. I’ve treated children for concussions in any sport you can name, and a few you wouldn’t think of. I’ve seen pole-vaulters, BMX riders and tennis players. Not that long ago, I treated a young man injured playing Ultimate Frisbee.

I’m not in favor of abolishing any sport for children, football included. Sports have too much to offer young people. There is nothing like being part of a Little League team or competing as a swimmer, tennis player or golfer to promote perseverance, sportsmanship, fair play, to keep fighting until the last point in the match or the last out. These are traits that carry us through life’s challenges.

In light of what we now know about concussions and the brains of children, though, many sports should be fine-tuned. But many parents and coaches are satisfied with the rules as they are. They like seeing youngsters in helmets and pads, and watching them slide headfirst into second base. The closer the peewee games resemble those of the professionals, the happier we are. It’s natural for a parent or a coach. Even a neurosurgeon.

But children are not adults. Their bodies are still maturing. Their vulnerabilities to head trauma are far greater.

A child’s brain and head are disproportionately large for the rest of the body, especially through the first five to eight years of life. And a child’s weak neck cannot brace for a hit the way an adult’s can. (Think of a bobblehead doll.) A child’s cranium at 4 is about 90 percent the size an adult’s. That’s important to a discussion of concussions and concussion risk.

We cannot eliminate head trauma from youth sports. What we can change is our mind-set so protecting the head and the brain is always a top consideration.

The guiding principle should be that no head trauma is good head trauma. Let’s re-examine youth sports and take steps to keep young athletes safe. I would like to see these changes written into the rules across the country.

SOCCER Many parents and coaches are surprised to learn that soccer is not among the safer sports for head trauma. It is actually one of the riskiest. In 2010, more high school soccer players sustained concussions than did athletes in basketball, baseball, wrestling and softball combined, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio.

Most of that risk comes from one play: heading the ball. When two or more leap to direct the ball with their heads, a number of collisions can occur with heads, shoulders and elbows. From a neurological standpoint, nearly all are bad. About 90 percent of the patients I see with soccer head trauma and concussion are related to heading accidents.

It’s an easy call for me: take heading out of soccer until the players are 14.

ICE HOCKEY The progressive leadership of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have done most of the heavy lifting in this sport. Hockey Canada outlawed checking to the head throughout amateur hockey. In 2011, USA Hockey approved a ban on body checking before the age of 13. I would extend the ban on body checking to 14. (The previous rule permitted body checking for players as young as 11.)

BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL Batting helmets are mandatory at every level of baseball, yet it’s surprising how little we do to ensure that they stay on. Some youth leagues around the country have mandated chin straps for years. All youth and high school leagues should require them.

In addition, headfirst slides should be eliminated. When a child’s head plows into an ankle or a shin, the leg always wins. Worse are home-plate collisions in which the head of the base runner can crash into the catcher’s hard shinguards.


I have heard that girls would be emboldened to play more aggressively if helmets were required in these sports, and that the net effect would be more injuries, not fewer. I say hold officials accountable for enforcing the rules, and that will not happen.

In lacrosse, some officials now favor something like a bike helmet to protect the top of the head. That is not good enough. When helmets that cover the entire head are required, fewer young women will sustain concussions.

Field hockey rules state that players should not raise their sticks above the knee. But that rule is broken in every game, often resulting in concussions, eye injuries, cuts, broken noses and more. Helmets are needed, although they do not have to be as robust as football helmets.

]I would expect resistance to these recommendations from parents of the 16,000 players in Pop Warner football’s tackle division for 5- to 7-year-olds, for example. But let’s begin the debate.

Robert C. Cantu, a clinical professor in the department of neurosurgery and a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine, is a co-author with Mark Hyman of the new book “Concussions and Our Kids.”