Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reasons to Care: Parent’s Edition

Becoming a Legislative Advocate for Your Child’s School

By Tanaya Gable

In the month of November, the media was buzzing about the recent plan of action surrounding the agriculture appropriations bill; a bill that, essentially, made it easier to count pizza sauce as a serving of vegetables. The decision immediately drew widespread outrage from consumer advocates to critics and on to parents, who saw “pizza is a vegetable” to be bizarre.

As time went on, the public learned more about the agriculture appropriations bill and discovered that the fight was less about serving pizza and more about the actual tomato paste.  Specifically, the fight about how a specific amount of the product could count as one serving of vegetables.  Congress blocking change to the bill essentially meant that tomato paste would continue to receive credit as a serving of vegetables, thus, leaving one-eighth of a cup to be counted as something about four times larger.

This makes it easier, and cheaper, for pizza manufacturers to produce a product that includes a serving of vegetables. But it by no means declares the pizza itself a vegetable. Schools lunches are still measured by federal regulations for calories (no more than one-third of daily recommended value) and fat content (less than 30 percent of the meal), which limits how much pizza students can be served. A cafeteria worker can’t just pile a slice of pizza on a plate and say she’s serving salad.

Making the Connection

So what’s all the fuss about right? Still wondering how this concerns you? Draw your attention back to the initial controversy. Whether you agree that a smaller serving of tomato paste has equal footing with a half-cup of other fruits and vegetables, whether you believe Congress is ridiculous for their decision, or even if you had never even heard about the story, if you are a parent, you have a voice. Your opinion counts and you have the right to be involved whenever your children are involved. This goes for issues in your community and issues that are nationwide. If you find yourself completely disapproving of a piece of legislation passed, affecting your child, would you even know how to take action?

Where Should I Begin?

Your state and federal legislators want to hear from you. Personal letters make a wonderful impact but that is not to dismiss emails, phone calls and even online advocacy. When contacting officials it is best to have a specific piece of legislation or issue to address. It also helps to have a strong number of followers and supporters who share the same ideas about what you are addressing and seek to change as well. Check out the PTA at your child’s school. Here you may find coordinators who work to organize campaigns when a particular bill begins to draw heavy attention, or perhaps you can organize a campaign.

When writing legislators remember to clearly state your purpose, use specific examples and keep your letter concise. More information on how to take legislative action can be found in In Reach’s first ever soon-to-be-released Advocacy Toolkit!

A Step Further: Finding a Cause to Support

Apart from contacting your local and state representatives it is also important to find a cause that supports your vision. In matters concerning what is served in your child’s school cafeteria, there are several support groups and organizations that can help open doors for you and your family. Take the National Farm to School Network, for example. This organization gives you the opportunity to join ranks with millions of other Americans who are in support of bills that wish to restore the right of all children to access good food in school; that educate and inform communities about healthy food and its impact on the wellbeing of children; and that connect farmers, school districts, food service companies, and great ideas to the food system delivering school lunch.

In addition to finding support, familiarize yourself with local and state policy, as well as national legislation. Stay on top of what occurs in your county and explore how national policy decision trickles down into your neighborhood.

Still wondering why you should care? Check out the links below to get a jumpstart.
The Community Food Service Coalition
Maryland's Jane Lawton Farm-to-School Program
National School Lunch Program

Other Sources:
The Washington Post
The Inside Scoop SF

Friday, November 18, 2011

True Love, True Reality

“One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit,
slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

By Toni A. Smith

Although Domestic Violence Awareness Month has ended, the work to prevent domestic violence continues. In Reach’s Youth Ambassadors at Parkdale High School are gearing up to implement the initial stages of their Crossroads Project. The Crossroads Project addresses teen dating violence and teen parenting. At full implementation, the Crossroads Project will consist of an awareness assembly, educational and outreach materials, and an informative and engaging resource and referral website focusing on Prince George’s County teens.

Staggering statistics tell us

§  Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence -- almost triple the national average.
§  Violent behavior typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18.
§  The severity of intimate partner violence is often greater in cases where the pattern of abuse was established in adolescence.
§  About 72% of eighth and ninth graders are “dating”.
§  Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.

The Youth Ambassadors selected dating violence and parenting issues out of concern for the dating experiences and choices their friends are making. Research tells us that only 33% of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse and a teen’s confusion about the law and their desire for confidentiality are two of the most significant barriers stopping young victims of abuse from seeking help. Incidents of dating violence are happening in their peer group more than adults know. Eighty one percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue. Youth Ambassadors also feel that the young parents they know do not receive enough support to keep them in school, even when they want to be there.

Using the performing arts and technology, Youth Ambassadors will launch the Crossroads Project with their True Love, True Reality Awareness Assembly. The assembly will highlight the warning signs of domestic violence, where teens can go and who they can talk to if they are currently in a domestic violence situation, and information on making better and healthier lifestyle choices.

In preparation for the Crossroads Project, Ambassadors disseminated a survey to their peers in 2010. A follow-up survey is currently underway. Based on 188 responses, when asked

§  if they knew someone who has experienced dating violence, half (51%) of the students responded “yes”  
§  about the gender of the person experiencing the dating violence, almost half (45%) reported female
§  do you think your school/community would benefit from having a “safe” place for teens experiencing or who have experienced dating violence, 68% responded “yes”
§  do you know someone still in high school who has a baby, an overwhelming 92% responded “yes”

The True Love, True Reality Awareness Assembly will be presented in 2012.

For more information on teen dating violence, visit (@loveisrespect). If you know a pregnant or teen parent who is in need of help, contact St. Ann’s Teen Mother-Baby Program, 301.559.5500,

Data from, except where indicated.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Advocacy, Grassroots and Community Leadership!

By Tanaya Gable

Ever wanted to strike change in your community but felt clueless on how to jump start your idea?You’re not alone. In Prince George’s County, there are many people just like you who have visions for evolution. Did you know that more than half of all community-based organizations in our county start from the ideas of regular citizens like you; parents, educators and in some instances, young people who could no longer sit idly, quiet and unfulfilled?

In Reach strives to help not only young people, but all members of the community to realize the extent of their potential to make change. Here are a few proven points that can guide you in becoming a part of the moving train that is advocacy, grassroots and community leadership.

Discuss them in your workplace, with your family and with your friends. No one has a reason to remain inactive. Change in our community starts with a change in us. Let’s spark that change now!

1. Research the causes and issues important to you. Look for a group centered on issues you feel strongly about. You might already be giving money to one of these organizations, and that might be a good place to begin your volunteer experience. If you can't find such an organization, here's a challenging and intriguing thought: why not start one yourself? Rally neighbors to clean up that vacant lot on the corner. Patrol the neighborhood. Paint an elderly neighbor's house. Take turns keeping an eye on the ailing person down the street. Form a group to advocate for a solution to that dangerous intersection in your neighborhood. There is no end to the creative avenues for volunteering, just as there is no end to the need for volunteers.

2. Consider the skills you have to offer. If you enjoy outdoor work, have a knack for teaching, or just enjoy interacting with people you may want to look for volunteer work that incorporates these aspects of your personality. Many positions require a volunteer who has previous familiarity with certain equipment such as computers, or who possess certain skills, such as ability in athletics or communications. For one of those positions, you might decide to do something comparable to what you do on the job during your workday, or something that you already enjoy as a hobby. This sort of position allows you to jump right into the work without having to train for the assignment.

3. Try something new. Perhaps you would like to learn a new skill or gain exposure to a new situation. Consider seeking a volunteer opportunity where you'll learn something new. For example, volunteering to work on the newsletter for the local shelter will improve your writing and editing abilities, skills that may help you in your career or volunteering can simply offer a change from your daily routine. For example, if your full-time job is in an office, you may decide to take on a more active volunteer assignment, such as leading tours at an art museum or building a playground. Many non-profits seek out people who are willing to learn. Realize beforehand; however, that such work might require a time commitment for training before the actual volunteer assignment begins.

4. Combine your goals. Look for volunteer opportunities that will also help you achieve your other goals. For example, if you want to lose a few extra pounds, pick an active volunteer opportunity such as cleaning a park or working with kids. If you've been meaning to take a cooking class, try volunteering at a food bank that teaches cooking skills.

5. Don't over-commit your schedule. Make sure the volunteer hours you want to give fit into your hectic life, so you don't exhaust yourself, frustrate your family, disappoint the organization you're trying to help, or neglect your job. Do you want a long-term assignment or something temporary? If you are unsure about your availability, or want to see how the work suits you before making an extensive commitment, find out whether the organization will allow you to start volunteering a limited number of hours until you get the feel of things. Better to start out slowly than to commit yourself to a schedule you can't or don't want to fulfill.

6. Non-profits may have questions too. While most non-profits are eager to find volunteer help, they have to be careful when accepting the services you offer. If you contact an organization with an offer to volunteer your time, you may be asked to come in for an interview, fill out a volunteer application, or describe your qualifications and background just as you would at an interview for a paying job. It is in the organization's best interest and more beneficial to the people it serves to make certain you have the skills needed, that you are truly committed to doing the work, and that your interests match those of the non-profit. Furthermore, in volunteer work involving children or other at-risk populations, there are legal ramifications for the organization to consider.

7. Consider volunteering as a family. Think about looking for a volunteer opportunity suitable for parents and children to do together, or for a husband and wife to take on as a team. When a family volunteers together at a non-profit organization, the experience can bring them closer, and teach young children the value of giving their time and effort. It can also introduce everyone in the family to skills and experiences never before encountered, and give the entire family a shared experience as a wonderful family memory.

8. Virtual volunteering? Yes, there is such a thing! If you have computer access and the necessary skills, some organizations now offer the opportunity to do volunteer work over the computer. This might take the form of giving free legal advice, typing a college term paper for a person with a disability, or simply keeping in contact with a shut-in who has e-mail. This sort of volunteering might be well suited to you if you have limited time, no transportation, or a physical disability that precludes you from getting about freely. Virtual volunteering can also be a way for you to give time if you simply enjoy computers and want to employ your computer skills in your volunteer work.

9. I never thought of that! Many community groups are looking for volunteers, and some may not have occurred to you. Most of us know that hospitals, libraries, and churches use volunteers for a great deal of their work, but here are some additional organizations you may volunteer with:
  • Day Care Centers, Neighborhood Watch, Public Schools and Colleges
  • Halfway Houses, Community Theaters, Drug Rehabilitation Centers
  • Fraternal Organizations and Civic Clubs
  • Retirement Centers and Homes for the Elderly, Meals on Wheels, Church or Community-Sponsored Soup Kitchens or Food Pantries
  • Museums, Art Galleries, and Monuments
  • Community Choirs, Bands, and Orchestras
  • Prisons, Neighborhood Parks, Youth Organizations, Sports Teams, and after-school programs, Shelters for Battered Women and Children
  • Historical Restorations, Battlefields, and National Parks
10. Give voice to your heart through volunteering! Bring your heart and your sense of humor to your volunteer service, along with your enthusiastic spirit, which in itself is a priceless gift. What you'll get back will be immeasurable!

Find information on local volunteer opportunities by visiting

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

(Summer) Learning

Summer learning is fast becoming equally as important as learning throughout the school year. Traditionally viewed as a time for students to relax and have fun, as the school year seems to grow longer, summer is becoming more and more about organized learning - whether academic, faith, sports or developmentally based. And with the explosion of so many different technological devices and applications, learning does not have to be confined to just the school building whether formal or informal.

Summer programs serve as powerful bridges to learning throughout the year. As the demand for more programming continues to grow, parents, educators, community and political leaders, and students themselves are encouraged to come together, organize, stand up and speak out for increased funding and support for programs in their communities. The National Summer Learning Association and Coalition represents a wide range of education, youth development, health and others committed to bringing awareness and support to the value of summer programs as opportunities to close the achievement gap and support healthy development for all students.

The Interview: Summer Learning
Mr. Bob Seidel
Policy Director, National Summer Learning Association and Coalition

1.      Share with us some little known facts about summer learning.

Summer learning loss may be the most important education issue facing the country that is not getting adequate attention. Research shows that most American students tend to lose about two months of what they’ve previously learned in math over the summer and students in low-income communities also tend to lose up to three months of reading skill development. But those enrolled in high-quality summer learning programs tend to make gains. No matter what else we do in education reform, whether it’s in curriculum, standards, professional development, or accountability systems, if we don’t aggressively address summer learning loss, a lot of those other efforts will be wasted. Recent publications by the RAND Corporation and the Harvard Family Research Project summarize much of the research and highlight what works.

2.      What are the goals of the National Summer Learning Coalition, what outcomes are envisioned and where is NSLC currently in bringing it all together?

The Coalition wants to make high-quality summer learning an integral part of federal education policy, particularly through reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also currently known as “No Child Left Behind”).  The idea is for the federal government to make clear to states and local communities that summer learning is important and that it should be part of state and local education planning.  More than 50 education, youth development, health, and other organizations have joined the Coalition to advocate for summer learning policy.  ESEA is the broadest federal K-12 education policy statement, so we are focusing our efforts there.  Coalition members range from national organizations like the American Association of School Administrators and Boys & Girls Clubs of America to local programs like In Reach.

If we are successful, the federal government will make clear that many different funding streams within ESEA can be used for summer learning, but it will leave ultimate decision-making to local communities.

3.      What are some policy opportunities and how can communities rally all stakeholders to participate in strengthening summer learning?

Local communities can invite their Congressional representatives to visit existing summer learning programs to see what’s being accomplished.  Local advocates can also work with Title I administrators in their school districts to see how existing funds can be used for summer learning.  Summer learning programs are already eligible for federal funding, including Title I, but in many places the law doesn’t say so explicitly, so many people don’t know it.  One pot of federal resources that does specifically support summer programs is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.  But Congress has already begun cutting back that funding.  So it’s important to let Members of Congress know that it needs to be protected and even expanded.

It’s important to understand that high-quality summer learning programs may be managed by public school systems or community-based organizations.  Some of the best programs are partnerships between school districts and other organizations.  So your starting point can be inside or outside the public school system.

4.      What role can colleges and universities play in leveraging summer learning programs, opportunities and policies?

As just mentioned, many highly effective summer programs are partnerships and some of these include higher education institutions.  Around the country, some K-12 summer programs are based on college campuses.  In other cases, college faculty, staff, and students help staff summer programs, whether or not they are campus-based.  College students who are eligible for the federal college work-study program can be excellent support staff working with certified teachers in a summer program.

5.      School reform and STEM are a few buzz words in education right now, how can summer learning contribute to the success of these movements?

As I mentioned, most education reform movements focus on the school year.  The chances of any of them being successful are significantly enhanced if there is a summer learning program helping students to advance—rather than lose learning—during the summer. 

That includes STEM education.  Research shows that summer learning loss in math is particularly prevalent.  Summer provides a great opportunity for teachers and students to engage in innovative “outside-of-the-box” learning activities in STEM and other areas.  Project-based learning, especially when it gets students physically outside of the school building and into a range of environments, can be very engaging for both students and teachers.  We can go back to school in the fall energized to continue our STEM learning.

6.      And finally, what is the outlook on summer learning in the state of Maryland particularly in Prince George’s County?

There are excellent summer learning programs across Maryland, including Prince George’s County.  The In Reach program is one of them.  But here, as across the country, education budgets are being squeezed in the overall fiscal crunch.  So it’s important for local policymakers to understand the importance of summer learning.  If we don’t invest in summer learning, we end up getting much less for our education dollar during the school year.  We need to keep our legislators aware of the importance of the issue.  But we also need to look for diverse local sources of funding.  We know that we have high-quality programs, but we need many more to serve our young people properly. 

Download In Reach's summer edition of SnapShot - which promises to be an amazing resource throughout the year - to read more on learning. Visit In Reach's Resource Page for a list of additional resources including assistive technology apps.