Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NY kids must not ride bikes to school?

Seventh-grader Adam Marino is getting a firsthand lesson in civil disobedience. The 12-year-old and his mother, Janette Kaddo Marino, are defying Saratoga Springs school policy by biking to Maple Avenue Middle School on Route 9. The Jackson Street residents pedal more than four miles together each way to the middle school on nice days despite being told not to by school officials and police."I guess you can say that we continue to do what we feel is our right," Kaddo Marino said recently. "We feel strongly we have a right to get to school by a mode of transportation we deem appropriate."

Their methods may be unconventional, but the Marinos are part of a growing number of Americans challenging the sedentary habits of today's youths and what they view as overanxious "helicopter" parenting. As fewer children walk and bike to school nationwide, parents have started groups like the "Walking School Bus," which promotes physical activity and fitness in youth by having them walk to school with adults.

Parents and teachers at Niskayuna's Hillside Elementary School implemented the state's first Walking School Bus program. Separately, this week marks the end of the first "Children and Nature: Saratoga -- Come Out and Play," a week of outdoor events in Saratoga Springs coordinated by the local chapter of a national organization that seeks to "reconnect" children and their families to the outdoors.

Riding his 21-speed Giant mountain bike to school benefits Adam Marino's health and the environment, his mother says, and Adam believes it makes him a better student. "It would be really nice if it got changed," he said of the school policy.

The youngster may get his way. While the school district does not allow elementary school or Maple Avenue students to ride bikes to school, that could change in the coming weeks, Superintendent Janice White said. The Board of Education could vote to amend the policy on Oct. 13, when it is scheduled to discuss a recommendation from a district-formed committee. "Supervised, parent/guardian bike riding may be permitted at specific sites in the future," White said in an interview Friday. The school has no legal responsibility over what occurs on Route 9, she added.

The biking debate started last spring, when school district officials told Kaddo Marino that Adam was violating school rules by biking to class. Walking to the school also is not permitted. Kaddo Marino challenged the policy and asked the school board to change it. The district charged a committee to review the rule, which was instituted in 1994.

At the start of school in September, Kaddo Marino thought that she had a nonverbal agreement with school officials to allow her son to ride his bike until a new policy was resolved. But on the night before classes started, school authorities called parents to say that walking and biking to school would not be tolerated. When the pair stuck with their plan, they were met by school administrators and a state trooper, who emphasized that biking was prohibited, Kaddo Marino said.

In response, members of an advocacy group, Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network, rallied around the mother and son by accompanying them on their rides to school. They go an average of twice a week. Mom rides to the school to join her son coming home.

Route 9 is a state road also called Maple Avenue. The suburban thoroughfare is busy with cars and businesses. It has crosswalks and wide shoulders, but no bike lanes. The accident rate on the road near the school is less than the statewide average for similar streets, and no bike accidents have been reported in the last three years ending Feb. 1, according to Mark Kennedy, regional traffic engineer at the state Department of Transportation.

At Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake schools, officials allow elementary and middle school students to ride their bikes to school if they bring in notes from their parents, spokeswoman Christy Multer said. About six to 10 middle school students ride on nice days, Multer said. They park their bikes in racks, and leave after buses depart.

SOURCE. Comment here

The enormous difficulty of getting your kid into a good British State school

Leftist governments hate them but parents love "Grammar" (selective) schools because they know that only there is a kid with ability likely to get a good education in the State ("free") sector

Sally has contacted me to express the astonishment she felt when she recently took her son for a grammar selection test. The scenes, she said, were unbelievable, and she's willing to share them with you. It all sounds rather frightening...

"Like hundreds of other children, my 10 year-old sits secondary school and grammar selection tests this autumn, and like many parents, we’re new to the process. But nothing prepared us for the extraordinary scenes last week at our first test day for entry to a London grammar for boys.

We arrived early and so did everyone else. A mile from the school gates, and with 45 minutes before the test was due to start, we drove past crowds of families streaming in the same direction. Hundreds of people strode along clutching registration forms, their faces set to stony, and behind each group of adults trotted a bewildered looking boy struggling to keep up.

We joined the swarm at the school gates. So did five police officers, who, it turned out, would spend the morning marshalling the crowds and directing the arriving and departing traffic. Three testing sessions were to take place that day; ours was just the first.

A general sense of panic grew, and we struggled to resist the urge to join in. About 300 people gathered in the road. Anxious boys pushed past other boys, on past a barrier and towards the exam hall. "Why are they going in?", we asked the man carrying a clipboard guarding the gate. There was still 45 minutes to go. “Get him in if he’s ready!” barked the man. ”Boys go in NOW! BOYS HAVE GONE IN ALREADY! Say goodbye, mums and dads!”

The crowd surged as the message was passed back along the pavement. It all proved too much for one boy, who started to sob. “OK Olly - Go GO GO!” his mother shouted, her face full of forced cheerfulness. He slunk off, shoulders shaking.

Another family clumped themselves into a huddle, arms round one another in the style of Madonna and her dancers before a concert. To the astonishment of the rest of us, they sang a quick and demonstrative prayer before releasing one another then clapping and whooping at their boy. He emerged with a euphoric expression on his face, and then scampered off towards the exam hall.

We hugged and kissed our son quickly before he sank into the stream of stunned looking boys. Then we, and the rest of the wild-eyed crowd, shuffled off to the ‘parents waiting area’, a playing field with a tea stall, chairs and a portaloo, to sit in the drizzle and wait. We learned later that there was no need for the urgency: the boys had sat in silence for forty minutes on crash mats until the exam started.

While we were waiting, we noticed how some parents had pointed their chairs in the direction of the exam hall and were simply staring in its direction. They appeared to be attempting to will their sons to perform well. We joined the rest at the tea queue, where the atmosphere was still crazed. One mother solemnly confessed to her friend: “I’ve never shouted at James before, but I did last week. He was playing with Pokemon cards instead of studying.” “But you’re always shouting at him,” said her friend. “Not like this. This time I lost it completely.” Then she started crying and couldn’t stop.

Perhaps these scenes of police crowd control and sobbing parents are unusual. The school is oversubscribed; we are told 2,000 boys sit a test for 150 places. Nevertheless, on that day we wondered what the hell we were doing, and whether we wanted to put our son through this or any more selective tests.

But equally, it was cheering to see parents from different races, religions and classes who all loved and wanted the best for their children, even if that meant behaving irrationally in public. And in spite of the tension, parents were at pains to be very friendly to one another. Once the panic subsided, strangers struck up conversations. Who knows? If our sons pass, we might become lifelong friends. "


British school lab health and safety rules 'could stop future scientists'

Schools have banned experiments seen as dangerous, even though they teach vital skills

It is a scientific fact, tested and proven by generations of pupils, that experiments in school laboratories win young people to the cause of science. White coats, goggles and the chance to set fire to things foster a passion for chemistry that even years of examinations do not extinguish. But government advisers and eminent scientists are warning of a disturbing development that could endanger generations of future scientists: pupils are no longer allowed to experiment.

Health and safety concerns are preventing students — including those taking A levels — from performing vital and exciting investigations into what happens when one sets fire to magnesium ribbon, or drops a small glob of sodium into a dish of water.

The fear of burns, spillages and volatile reactions means that even mundane procedures such as distillation are often viewed online rather than performed in the laboratory. Professor John Holman, the Government’s chief adviser on science in schools, and Professor David Phillips, incoming president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, told The Times that it was vital for pupils to learn how to handle hazardous substances and to experiment.

Professor Holman, who is also director of the National Science Learning Centre, said trainee teachers spent too little time preparing exciting practicals. “There is much less practical work now because of a huge focus on exams,” he said. “Schools are so aware of health and safety — they will say, ‘That’s too dangerous’. “But in most cases you can do it, you just need to take precautions. The schools do formulaic investigations which give pupils a higher grade.”

Professor Phillips, who is also Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London, said: “Many of the experiments we did handling strong acids wouldn’t be allowed today, but learning to handle dangerous materials teaches you how to deal with things sensibly,” he said. Without the stimulation produced by making elements combust and fizz, pupils would not continue science beyond GCSEs, the professors warned. “All the evidence points to practical work being the thing that pupils like to do,” Professor Holman said. “This isn’t about how do you get more Grade Cs in GCSEs, it’s about how you inspire more young people.”

The comments follow an Ofsted report warning that the national curriculum and testing regime led to boring science lessons. Schools spent too much time drilling students for tests, it said.

Jane Lees, head of Hindley High School in Wigan, and a former head of science, agreed that health and safety had put an end to a number of “whiz-bang” experiments. “But we’re moving on to different ways of teaching science — with videos, and on the web with virtual learning environments which are quite as interesting. It’s a different way of learning but it should still be able to turn them on. What you need is inspirational teachers.”


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