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Up Front in NEA Today

Arthur’s Dream

Sixteen years after his parents fled Armenia with their two-year-old son—their house burned down and lives threatened because his father, a police sergeant, had reported bribe-taking in his department—Arthur Mkoyan graduated at the very top of his class at Bullard High School in Fresno, California, in 2008.

With a better than 4.0 grade point average and a letter of acceptance to UC Davis, Mkoyan planned to become a doctor. The American Dream, right? Wrong. Just days after graduation, Arthur and his parents were scheduled to be deported, their appeal for asylum rejected after 16 years of lingering in government files. With last-minute intercession by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), they’re still here—but Arthur’s future is on hold. In that respect, he isn’t alone.

Every year, about 60,000 undocumented students who have lived in the United States for at least five years graduate from high school. Most of them can’t afford to go to college because, as non-citizens, they can’t qualify for federal aid. Their best hope: the “DREAM Act,” a bill from U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) that would allow them to become permanent residents if they go to college or join the U.S. military.

NEA supports this bill and has written to Congress urging passage, but it failed to get enough votes last year. Maybe this year will be different. To learn more, go to

What are you reading?

As thousands of students and teachers across the United States get ready to celebrate NEA’s Read Across America Day on March 3, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Dr. Seuss is still tops. Here are first-place results from a Renaissance Learning Survey that asked more than 3 million kids what they’re reading.

Good-bye, blackboard! Hello, Black Forest!

Ryan McVay

Even as many kindergartners in the United States are spending more time in their seats, rapidly learning to read and write by first grade, a growing number of German kindergartners are going back to their roots in the “children’s garden.”

Germany has about 700 forest kindergartens, where students spend their days among the trees, singing songs, building fires, and exercising their imaginations.

Is it time to teach about money?

When retired teacher Allen Cox looks at the current financial crisis, especially the nearly 2.3 million U.S. property foreclosures in 2008, he sees millions of reasons why all students should learn more about money. How to save it, how to invest it, how to spend it wisely—these are skills taught in the financial literacy courses that Cox, managing director of the Maryland Coalition for Financial Literacy, would require for all high school students.

“You can’t be a victim of predatory lending unless you’ve failed to understand how they can take advantage of you,” Cox points out.

A recent Jump$tart study shows high school students continue to spend, despite the economy’s woes. In 2008, 35 percent said they had a credit card, up slightly from 2007.“ You don’t even need to have a job. Sign up, get a Frisbee, here’s $5,000 in credit,” Cox worries. They’ll likely be paying off that $5,000—that one spring break trip to San Padre Island—until they’re 35 years old.

“One hundred percent of our kids will be consumers. They will actively seek jobs, they will have to sign contracts,” Cox says. With that in mind, shouldn’t they know how to do it well?

Delivering at General Hospital

Does TV make teens pregnant? A new study by the Rand Corporation—the same folks who suggested a link between raunchy music and teen sex in 2006—says it does. Their research, published recently in Pediatrics journal, found that teens who watched the most sexy stuff on TV were twice as likely to become pregnant as teens who eyed the least.



The No Child Left Behind-fueled trend toward shorter play times—or even the elimination of recess at some test-obsessed schools—may lead to unruly classrooms and more obese children, according to new research from New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Researchers looked at more than 10,000 children, ages eight and nine, and found that those who had at least a 15-minute break behaved better than those who did not. The results, which were published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also found that the children not getting recess were more likely to be Black, poor, and attending schools in big cities.

Many schools have responded to the demands of NCLB, which focuses on reading and math scores to the exclusion of much else, by increasing “seat time.” But researchers suggested that Americans look to Asia for a more effective practice. Most elementary schools there provide a 10-minute break after every 40 to 50 minutes of instruction.

Find a penny, give it away!

Courtesy of Pennies for Peace

In Rockford, Illinois, a penny goes a long way—all the way to Afghanistan, where mere pennies can mean a chance for poor children living in Central Asia to get an education.

Last year, Rockford Education Association vice-president Karen Bieschke read Greg Mortenson’s best-selling book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, about Mortenson’s journey to establish schools in this destitute region, and helped introduce the book to her community. With new awareness, teachers, students, and other community groups pulled together their resources and spare change to gather nearly $85,000 for Pennies for Peace—a program that helps build schools in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The organization, which Mortenson founded, aims to teach children how individual efforts working together can impact education everywhere.

“People are so hungry for good news and they feel so powerless,” Bieschke says. “Something like this makes them feel good about what they can do.”

For more information, go to —Nina Sears

Good Night!

It’s not just your students who nod off in class. According to a recent Ball State University survey, teachers aren’t getting enough sleep either. Forty-three percent said they sleep six hours or less each night, and half said they missed work or made errors because of a “serious lack of sleep.”

Dressing for Success

No overly baggy jeans. No flip-flops. No revealing clothing. Sounds like the standard dress code for students, right?

Maybe. But it’s also the new dress code for employees of the Huntsville City Schools in Alabama. Developed by a local advisory committee, chaired by Shirley Wellington, a Lee High School accounting teacher, the new code doesn’t require women to wear heels or men a coat-and-tie. They just have to maintain an overall professional look. “We want [our students] to act and dress in a professional manner, and we need to do the same thing,” Wellington says.  —Nina Sears

The Plight of the Working Mom

Masterfile (Crayon Drawing Fotoar)

Even as doctors and federal health agencies urge new mothers to breastfeed, some educators struggle to find time or a place to pump milk during school. Nobody knows this better than one Virginia teacher, who has been forced to pump milk during staff meetings for her child, who has allergies to conventional milk products. (Yes, you read that right: staff meetings.)

Teachers aren’t alone in this struggle. Many working mothers find it difficult to leave the factory floor or hide in the restaurant’s bathroom to pump milk, noted Jane Krouse of La Leche International. And while many states protect a woman’s right to breastfeed, only Oregon protects the right of employees to pump milk every four hours.

In districts with collective bargaining, it may be more prudent to approach the issue as a workplace-conditions issue. Elsewhere, it could be addressed through board policy or the employee handbook. You can find some convincing arguments at

Capitol Report

Go, Lilly!

The new Obama Administration has moved quickly to do right for workers. In late January, the first bill signed into law by President Obama was a stinging retort against pay discrimination, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, named for a woman who had been unfairly nickeled and dimed by her bosses for years. NEA President Dennis Van Roekel called it, “an important signal for workers across the nation seeking fairness in the workplace.”

Next up? Retirement safety

Because of two provisions in the Social Security system—the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)—tens of thousands of public employees can’t access their rightful benefits. A remedy, in the form of a recently resubmitted House bill with more than 130 co-sponsors, is on its way. For more information, and to sign NEA’s electronic petition, go to

Vital Stats: Tune in to your child’s computer use

A recent global survey of parents and children from Symantec shows that many parents don’t really know what their children do online—or to whom they may be speaking. Although Americans do a more thorough job than some of our neighbors, you should continue to talk to your children about safe online habits and keep an eye on their online activities.

United States:

  • 35% of kids have made friends online
  • 33% like their online friends as much as or more than “real” friends
  • 67% of teens visit social networking sites, at least sometimes
  • 42% have received online requests for personal info
  • 16% have been approached by a stranger
  • 50% of parents have spoken to kids about safe use

The Magic School Bus

Some rural Arkansas students have a new classroom— their school bus.

Masterfile (Crayon Drawing Fotoar)

During rides as long as three hours a day, students in the Aspirnaut Initiative either take online math and science courses on donated laptops or tune in to educational podcasts on the program’s iPods.

After working through some initial glitches, the program, which is co-sponsored by Vanderbilt University and the Sheridan School District, has been beneficial to students, including her own son, insists Sheridan school bus driver Rhonda Meeks, who drives one of the two buses that supports the program.

And it’s not just academic benefits. School bus behavior also has improved, she says. “It gives them something to do besides sit there and play,” Meeks asserts. “I just wish that all of the students could have gotten an iPod.”

In the future, she suggests, students not enrolled in the program should also have an opportunity to take part in a similar educational activity. “The program could have a cd player [with educational recordings] hooked up to the radio where everyone could listen and benefit,” she says.

—Erica Addison

Book Focus

She Said What?

“There is a wide-spread percep-tion that poor children are routinely short-changed by their schools.… But what if the supposed failure of schools to close the achievement gap is altogether misleading?”

A provocative comment, but the real surprise is who’s saying it: Susan Neuman, a former education official in the Bush Administration, in a new book, Changing the Odds for Children At Risk. Research shows low-income children learn as fast in school as wealthier children, she notes. It’s outside of school that poor children fall behind. Says Neuman, “Most teachers are highly capable of successfully educating” children who get a strong foundation at home. Now at the University of Michigan, she joined 62 other education leaders last June to urge the nation to improve the lives of low-income children across the board rather than continuing to point the finger at schools.

Her prescription:

  • Comprehensive health care
  • High-quality preschools
  • Intensive help for poor families
  • After-school programs.

All of these would be staffed by highly-trained professionals. “No cheap fix actually works,” says Neuman.


Mo Willems, Children’s author and artist

Mo Willems

Best known for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny, Willems recently won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal for his books for early readers.

Congrats on your recent honor for Are You Ready to Play Outside? We think it’s no easy task to write a book that meets the needs of early readers—and still makes us giggle. Why does that challenge appeal to you?

An early reader is like an algorithmic computation. How do I take less than 50 distinct words, all of them basic, none more than two syllables, incorporate them into a narrative featuring an elephant, pig, and perhaps one or two more anthropomorphic animals with a minimum of props, and, over the course of 64 surfaces, concoct a story that is way more fun to read than this sentence? It's fun to figure out. Plus, I like drawing pigs.

Teachers have a lot of fun reading about Pigeon—“Let me drive the bus!” But it’s amazing how so many kids will say, “No! You can’t!” and it’s the very ones who might beg for extended recess.... Does this surprise you?

It’s important to remember kids are members of the same species as the rest of us; they are, simply put, people. And people inherently love all rules, with the singular exception of the ones that affect them.

If you were a teacher, what would art class look like?


Your newest book, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, already is a favorite in my house—but they’re not the typical furry friends of most children’s literature. Why did you pick the naked mole rat?

No one else had. That gave me free range to do what I wanted with them. Say “Dinosaur,” people think of Danny. Say, “Naked Mole Rat,” people, I hope, think of me. Granted, it’s not much, but it’s all I have....

What’s next for you?

Doing what I love. Doodling up stories about elephants and pigs, working on my pop-up book, and all kinds of things so new I don’t even know what they are yet.


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