Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bald is Beautiful

Hair is a big deal when you're 15. But for 260 students at Palm Beach (Fla.) Central High School, helping sick kids is a bigger deal. The students shaved their heads en masse this month for St. Baldrick's Day, a worldwide campaign to raise money for childhood cancer research. With each student snagging $100 minimum in pledges from friends and family, the school turned over $75,000 in total to the St. Baldrick's Foundation. Inspired faculty members joined in, too, amid cheers and heartfelt tears.

The Palm Beach students are among more than 11,900 (wow!) kids and teens who have registered to shave their heads this year, says a St. Baldrick's Foundation staffer. Although most events took place in March, they'll continue throughout the year in different locations, with more than 100 scheduled for April.

From Bystander to "Upstander"

Once upon a time, bullying was widely considered a rite of passage that toughened kids up for adulthood. But decades of studies have taught us the truth: Bullying is truly a no-win situation. It's bad for the targets, the bullies, and the bystanders.

The good news? A schoolwide commitment can reduce bullying significantly. And while consistent adult leadership and support is a must, some schools are turning bystanders into powerful agents for change.

Most bullying happens away from adult eyes and ears. But for kids, it's a daily reality. Nine of 10 kids say they've seen someone bullied, says the Center for Social and Emotional Education. They can choose to support the bully, ignore the episode, or support the target by finding a way to intervene safely, either in the moment or at another time.

Confronting the bully outright and telling him or her to stop, while courageous, may not always be safe. Other tactics:

~Tell an adult. If scared to name names, just say "please watch the girls' bathroom at lunch...bad things are happening there."
~Pull away the kid who's being bullied, and leave the scene together. Say "I need your help on something" or "Mr. Jones needs to see you right now."
~When a peer is targeted consistently, be a friend. Invite him or her to spend recess or eat lunch together. Give genuine compliments for a job well done or a new haircut, glasses, shoes, etc. Involve him or her in a positive activity. Teach him or her a new game or skill.
~Shoot down untrue or unkind rumors, to keep them from spreading: "That's not cool."

We parents can encourage our kids to step up, too. Think: What do we prioritize and praise? Is an A on that math test more exciting than finding out our kid befriended a bullied peer? It shouldn't be.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gaming for Good

"Jumbo shrimp"..."working vacation"..."healthy videogame." All oxymorons, right? Not at Generation Cures, an online community that lets kids "game for good." Through the Caduceus adventure game, set in a fantasy world where characters work to cure a deadly virus, young gamers can seek pledges from friends and family to benefit Children's Hospital Boston. Kids unlock a chunk of the pledged gift each time they complete part of the mission toward a cure. The site's animated Zebrafish series inspires youth-led fundraisers, too, through the story of a kids' band that organizes a benefit concert when one member gets sick. Finally, videos made by kids, for kids take viewers behind the health-challenge scenes--meeting and interviewing the surgeons who helped them, for instance, or visiting a research lab. Finally, a chance to say "yes" to some extra screen time--guilt free :-)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Small Change, Big Change

Back in 1994, when Greg Mortenson of the Central Asia Institute wanted to build his first school in remote Pakistan, he had trouble bringing adult supporters on board. Kids? No problem.

Mortenson's mom, Jerene, invited him to give a slide show and speech to 600 students at Westside Elementary School in River Falls, Wisc., where she was principal. "When they saw the pictures," Mortenson wrote in his bestseller Three Cups of Tea, "they couldn't believe that there was a place where children sat outside in cold weather and tried to hold classes without teachers."

A month later, his mom sent him a check for $623.45--from the Westside kids, as a first step toward building the school in Pakistan. Her students had spontaneously launched a "Pennies for Pakistan" drive, filling two 40-gallon trashcans. "They [contributed] something that is basically worthless in our society--pennies," wrote Mortenson. "But overseas, pennies can move mountains."

Since those early days, the penny drive--now called Pennnies for Peace--has grown to include thousands of schools worldwide. Only pennies are collected so that everyone can contribute, regardless of income. Students in the developed world learn they can be philanthropists, have a positive impact on a global scale, even fight terrorism. "Teaching girls to read and write reduces the ignorance and poverty that fuel religious extremism," Mortenson wrote in a November '09 Parade magazine essay, "and lays a groundwork for prosperity and peace."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book it!

By customer request, personalized bookplates are the latest addition to our family shop, Karate Kat Graphics, which uses kids' artwork to help kids in extreme poverty through Save the Children. Choose from a variety of critters (the ladybug design shown, a dragonfly, bird, butterfly & an ocean scene) or go with flowers or a purple-hued rainbow. A sheet of 20 adhesive bookplates sets you back about 5 bucks.

Monday, March 8, 2010

School Support: Thoughts from Ross Greene, PhD

As a young mom I suffered a mild parenting-book addiction, and one of the better books I read was The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, PhD. Greene's focus is on chronically frustrated, inflexible children and teens, but his approach to behavior issues makes sense for all kinds of kids. While not a central theme of the book, peer support came up in an anecdote from The Explosive Child that stuck with me. During a classroom observation, Greene sees a student he's been working with help a peer with her math. Minutes later she turns around and helps him through a difficult transition, when he becomes upset about switching activities.

I spoke last week with Dr. Greene and asked if he's seen much of this reciprocal support during school visits over the years. "Kids support each other very frequently," he said. "Way more than they tease or bully each other." While it's only a piece of the larger puzzle for kids Greene works with -- who need a specific, strategic approach from parents and teachers -- all kids benefit, he said, when teachers are able to "create a peer culture in which collaborative problem solving is practiced and taught."

The Responsive Classroom and similar frameworks can help leverage kids' natural inclination to help each other into this type of classroom community. And everyone wins.

Dr. Greene's latest book is Lost at School. Learn more about his Collaborative Problem Solving approach at Lives in the Balance.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Labor of Love

June 12, 2010 is World Day Against Child Labour, organized by the International Labour Organization to fight "the use of children in slavery, forced labour, trafficking, debt bondage, serfdom, prostitution, pornography, forced or compulsory recruitment for armed conflict and all forms of work that are likely to harm the safety, health or morals of children." The ILO invites kids to get involved by organizing a book drive for children in another part of the world who are unable to go to school, writing letters to their local newspapers that explain World Day and the reasons for it (this definition & fact sheet can help), or making pinwheels -- World Day's symbol -- at school or through community organizations and signing petitions against child labor. Educators may want to use the event as a discussion starter, especially for older kids and teens, on the complexities of child labor, often bound tightly to dire poverty.