Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What a Wonderful Contribution to Society!

Faculty member helps children understand their emotions

Image of Ivelisse Torres-Frenandez
People often think of grade school as the place for learning reading, writing and arithmetic, but is there room to teach children social skills and how to deal with their emotions? Ivelisse Torres-Fernandez, assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology, says yes.

Torres came to New Mexico State University in 2008 and along with teaching graduate courses and conducting her research, she dove right in to the land-grant mission of community outreach. Torres began her outreach efforts by adapting and implementing a program called “Strong Kids” at Hermosa Heights Elementary School in Las Cruces. Strong Kids is a PreK-12 curriculum that teaches social emotional learning and resiliency in children.

“Social emotional learning is a set of skills that enables our children to express themselves more openly and efficiently,” Torres said. “This includes understanding and building respect, relationships and resilience.”

When working with younger children, Torres is using a strategy that includes “Kimochis.” Kimochi (key-MO-chee) means “feeling” in Japanese and “Kimochis” are a brand of toys educators can use to teach children about their emotions. Each Kimochi is a stuffed animal with an assigned feeling and attributes. For example the character “Bug” is shy and afraid of trying new things, while “Huggtopus” is an octopus that doesn’t know its boundaries and always gets in others’ way. The use of these tools helps children relate to the lesson and keeps their attention.

“Traditional education is focused on academics and there’s a lot of pressure on children to pass standardized tests which often leaves them feeling anxious,” Torres said. “We try to help kids learn how to express themselves more effectively, put a name to their feelings and teach them how to be self-aware, identify and regulate behavior.”

Torres has not only been teaching the Strong Kids program at Hermosa Heights, but has helped translate the program into Spanish and has trained other educators in Dona Ana County and beyond. With the support of Michael Moorehead, dean of the College of Education, and John Schwartz, head of the Counseling and Educational Psychology Department, Torres was able to organize an institute that trained educators from Central America and the Caribbean in the Strong Kids program and social emotional learning.

Torres’ latest project is called “Cruzando Fronteras” or crossing borders. The project is a collaboration with the Deming Public School District and will provide mental health services to children impacted by violence on the U.S.-Mexico border. The project will begin at Columbus Elementary School, which has approximately 685 students, but only one school councilor.

“We will not only work on social emotional learning and resilience, but will also do trauma focused work,” Torres said. “There is a lot of direct trauma and vicarious, or second-hand, trauma that these children are experiencing.”

Whenever Torres is working in the community, she has graduate students, who she has trained in the curriculum, assisting her in implementing the programs.

“At the graduate level we have an excellent group of students who are very driven and motivated and want experience,” Torres said. “I try to provide them with an extra set of skills and opportunities to expand what they’ve already learned in class and translate theory into practice.”

Torres said she takes a “train the trainers” approach and enjoys teaching curriculum and techniques to others so they can teach the principles of social emotional learning to those in need.

“With the train the trainers approach you can impact more people at once, especially in a state like New Mexico where the population is spread throughout a large area,” Torres said. “I think this will make a big difference in the long run.”

For more information about Torres and her work, visit

When Enough People Complain, Change Happens ...And That's a Good Thing!

Palm Beach County school board applauds proposed new discipline policies, notes more work is needed

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The Palm Beach County School Board applauded the efforts of the school district to update its discipline policies Wednesday, while noting that much more needs to be done to change the culture of the school district to cut down on suspensions and other issues.

District officials unveiled a draft of a new code of student conduct policies to the board during a workshop and special meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Keith Oswald, assistant superintendent of curriculum and learning support, called the revised policies “his baby” and said he’s excited to see the district use research-based strategies and data to help schools deal with discipline and cut down on suspensions.

The changes to the discipline policies also stem in part from a 2009 settlement following a federal complaint that the district was too often suspending students who were emotionally or behaviorally disabled.

Part of that settlement required the district to develop and implement a “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports” program, and to revise its discipline plan and code of student conduct to focus more on behavioral interventions.

At the end of the presentation, school board vice-chairwoman Debra Robinson applauded the district for its efforts to revamp its discipline policies to more proactively help students instead of automatically disciplining them.

She added with a smile, “I also want to thank the people who sued us to get us here.”
Other board members also heralded the plan, with school board member Jenny Prior Brown saying she thinks this will help “reshape the culture of the district in the direction we want to go.”
Still, concerns were raised about how well the proposed changes would be implemented by individual schools, teachers or principals.

The discussion about the district’s discipline practices come as the U.S. Department of Justice investigates a complaint about how the district handles suspensions of students who struggle to speak English.

On Monday, a trial attorney with the department’s Civil Rights Division visited the district and offered a number of suggestions that will be added to later versions of the policies, said Laura Pincus, a deputy counsel with the district. The district had sent its proposed policy to that attorney for her input, Pincus said.

The department’s recommendations included adding language ensuring that parents of students who get suspended are given information about the suspension in their native language.
“It’s about making sure we’re recognizing our obligations to our students who are English-language learners,” Pincus said.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

This is What You Call Putting The Public Back in Education!!! I'm Speechless....Way to Go Flordia!!! Taking Accountability to a New Level!!!

Duval School Board agenda: Teacher discipline, including case involving child sexual charges

Posted: August 7, 2012 - 12:13am  |  Updated: August 7, 2012 - 7:39am

The Duval County School Board monthly meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium of the school district administration building, 1701 Prudential Drive. The meeting will be broadcast live on Comcast Channel 99 and online at Among the items to be considered:
Item: Suspend without pay pending termination Christopher Bacca and Theodrick Morton.
What it means: Bacca, Windy Hill Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year, has been charged with several counts of sexual battery against a child. Morton, a teacher at A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology, is accused of fondling and groping two female students at his school and faces two counts of battery against a minor.

Item: Suspend without pay five teachers.
What it means: Steven Gilchrist of Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, 15 days, accused of inappropriate language; James Grant Jr. of Darnell Cookman Middle High School, 15 days, accused of giving FCAT answer sheets to students; Lena Lyles of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 30 days, accused of encouraging two students to help each other during FCAT testing; Wesley Tillman of Terry Parker High School, 30 days, accused of giving students End of Course exam answers; Sukaria Walls, Gregory Drive Elementary School, 15 days, accused of providing copy of word list for second grade state reading exam to the Sylvan Learning Center; Suzette Wynn-Wilcox of R.V. Daniels Elementary School, 15 days, accused of falsifying information on student’s Individual Education Plan.

Item: Ready for Tomorrow no-bid contract not exceeding $459,000.
What it means: The company will provide a range of support services to intervene schools. Connie Hall, a School Board candidate who has been endorsed by School Board Chairwoman Betty Burney, is president and CEO of the company.

Item: Two-year charter contract with School of Success Academy.
What it means: The middle school will be allowed to operate for two more years provided it complies with all state school improvement and accountability standards.

Item: Proposed 2013 academic targets.
What it means: Set target goals for student academic proficiency on mandated standardized tests including FCAT and End of Course exams.

Item: Educational Directions L.L.C. contract not exceeding $1.2 million.
What it means: The contract is for the company to provide sustained site-based management services to 12 lower-performing schools in the district.