Warmer weather is here and it certainly feels like spring has arrived a few weeks early. Many Oklahoma schools and colleges will be observing spring break March 16 through 20. While not all local school boards include a spring break in their adopted calendar, most still do.
The last thing boys and girls have on their minds during spring break is studying; but, there are many fun, learning activities that families can do together, whether on the road or at home
Events and happenings nearby or far away can be found on the internet, such as those at www.wimgo.com or on the Oklahoma Department of Tourism’s Web site www.travelok.com. Interesting getaways and activities from all corners of our state are listed – some close to your home.In these economic times, a new trend has started called “staycation.”
That’s taking time off, but staying at home while enjoying day trips to area attractions. Spring Break activities don’t have to be costly or travel intensive. Here are just a few examples:
· Your local library has much going on and you can checkout a book or two. Some locations have scheduled activities for boys and girls that week.
· Local museums, state parks, nature and community centers and historical sites provide hours of fun educational family time, many with Spring Break specials.
· Plant a spring garden. Children get excited about watching the progress of the garden and may be more willing to eat healthy food they helped plant.
· Quality time can be spent making a scrapbook with pictures and mementos from school projects, family activities or trips. This family fun project provides a keepsake that can be treasured.
· Even your neighborhood park or playground provides fun with other children and much-needed exercise, with adult supervision and weather permitting, of course.
· Children can help boost their writing skills by starting a journal about what they did during Spring Break; they could even write a letter to a friend or family member far away.
Some parents will be unable to take time off work during Spring Break, but children old enough to stay home alone can be given activities that encourage reading, writing and exercising.
Remind them of safety precautions when adults are not home.
Here’s to a safe, fun and educational spring break for all!
- Sandy Garrett, state schools superintendent
One might think that science and art mix together about as well as oil and vinegar. Not so – oil and vinegar do make for a tasty salad dressing.Lewis Thomas, a famous scientist who is also known for his poetry, once said: “Science will…produce the data…, but never the full meaning. For perceiving real significance, we shall need…most of all the brains of poets, [and] also those of artists, musicians, philosophers, historians, writer …”
We certainly need Oklahoma students to study or pursue all of these fields, including some that were not even thought of just a few years ago.
But in order for students to be successful in the 21st century global economy, they will need to communicate effectively, solve problems and think critically. These are all skills that are greatly impacted by the arts.
In study after study, we see a direct link between art and learning. When art is brought in to supplement basic curriculum, student test scores and comprehension rates improve.
Research also has shown that at-risk students, in particular, improve academically and gain much-needed self esteem through art opportunities.
Having the arts in our schools is essential to having a well-rounded education and critical to learning in our ever-expanding and globalized world.
To bring awareness to the importance of the arts in education, March has for years been declared National Youth Arts Month. As such, observances will take place across the U.S., and each state has had a contest to design a Youth Arts Month flag. This year’s theme is, “Releasing the Power of Art” and soon each winning state entry will be made and flown for the entire month at the U.S. Capitol.
Tuesday, March 3, is Youth Arts Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol. A celebration is planned that includes performances by students and professional artists, state and community leaders speaking, and student artwork on display. In addition, the winning Youth Arts Month flag entry will be honored.
At the same time, student artwork from around the state will also be on display in our art gallery in the Oliver Hodge Education Building, State Capitol Complex, Oklahoma City.For more information about Youth Arts Month or other art education events throughout the year, visit the Oklahoma Center for Arts Education Web site at www.ocae.net/. And, check out arts-in-education opportunities at the Oklahoma Department of Education’s Web site, www.sde.state.ok.us.
- Sandy Garrett, state schools superintendent
Ice, sleet and dangerously cold conditions swept through our state this week, closing schools and giving boys and girls a surprise winter break.
We are halfway through the winter and hope the worst of it is behind us.
Even if it is not, we are fortunate in Oklahoma in our schools not being as affected by inclement winter weather as schools located in the mountainous and northern areas of the country.
We are further aided by Oklahoma school boards being wise to build in “snow days” into their school calendars so that no, or relatively few days have to be tacked on to their calendars at the end of the year.
By law, Oklahoma schools must provide students 175 days of instruction which, coincidentally, is the nation’s shortest school-year requirement.
When bad weather strikes, school administrators must make the tough decision on closing schools. The ultimate deciding factor is the safety of the children and staff and whether everyone can travel to and from school safely.
School location or bus access is also a factor when deciding to close or delay a school opening. While it may appear as if main roads or highways are clear that usually is not the case in neighborhoods or on school grounds.
Before a decision is made, school leaders look at the forecast or current conditions from resources such as the National Weather Service, Accu-Weather and local news stations; transportation personnel tour various roads in the area, bus stops, walking routes and also speak with county and state officials.
As soon as a decision has been made, members of the community are alerted through various means such as official school Web sites, TV and radio stations. Various safeguards are in place to make sure information is accurate and up-to-date. All decisions are made as early as possible.
School leaders take very seriously their responsibility of ensuring boys and girls have every available opportunity to be in class learning, but also safe and out of harm’s way.
- Sandy Garrett, state schools superintendent
Voting Makes a Difference
On Tuesday, February 10, Oklahomans have an opportunity to make a difference in their communities by voting in local school board elections.
Registered voters will decide which candidates will be the strongest representatives and select the best choices for the children in school districts across our state.
School board candidates should be willing to put the time and effort into being an effective member and their main concern is the academic success of each student in the district.
For more information on the qualifications, requirements or duties of a school board member, please visit the State Department of Education’s Web site at <www.sde.state.ok.us> or call (405) 521-3331.Elections for school board members usually take place on the second Tuesday of February and, if needed, run-off elections are held, the first Tuesday in April (April 7).
In order to cast a ballot, you must be a registered voter in Oklahoma.
There is still time to contact your county election board for more information on registration.
Being a school board member is both demanding and challenging.
Important, sometimes tough, decisions must be made on local policies that adhere to state and federal laws and directly impact boys and girls.
Members make decisions regarding personnel and how to best use local, state and federal funding for school operations.
Serving on a school board requires commitment and work to be effective.
Numerous meetings are held throughout the year and appearances requested at local school or community events, as well as meetings with citizens and
Voting is one of the single most important rights and privileges we have in America and one of our responsibilities as citizens in a democratic republic. By voting, we are able to express our individual opinions on important issues while also making a difference in our future.
Remember Oklahoma’s children and your community need your vote, Feb. 10, 2009.
It takes just one try and then you are likely hooked.
Tragically, methamphetamine, typically referred to as meth or crystal meth, has taken hold of our communities, filled our prisons and destroyed
lives. It’s become the most dangerous drug problem for small towns and
one of our state’s greatest challenges. Experts say that young people in small towns are more than twice as likely to use this drug than their peers in larger cities.
We now have a chance to work together in fighting back with “Crystal Darkness Oklahoma,” a new campaign set to tackle the meth addiction strangling our state.
On Tuesday, January 13, at 6:30 p.m., a 30-minute documentary titled Crystal Darkness will air simultaneously on most TV stations and many
cable networks across our state. The documentary also will stream live
on many news media Web sites, as well as the Oklahoma Department of Health and Substance Abuse Services Web site <www.odmhsas.org>. I encourage you to view it. More than 120 “watch parties” are planned in communities across the state in conjunction with town hall meetings so citizens can discuss how to fight meth in their areas. And a statewide telephone helpline 211 (which is a free 24-hour telephone number that connects people with important community services) will be available for anyone who wants to help themselves or a loved one break their addiction to meth.
Phase I of the campaign is the airing of the documentary, which will focus on preventing new users from taking up the habit, and encouraging those who suffer addiction to seek help. It’s recommended for middle school-aged children and older because of some graphic sequences.
Phase II includes drug awareness training and education to galvanize schools, parents and communities. Funds will also be given to communities
based on need to start their own anti-meth campaigns.
The Oklahoma campaign is modeled after similar successful programs in Nevada, California, Oregon and Arizona. There are now more than a dozen additional cities and states throughout the nation currently scheduling events.
My office and staff at the State Department of Education were pleased to have the opportunity to join Crystal Darkness organizer Wes Lane, First Lady Kim Henry, Attorney General Drew Edmondson, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and many counseling experts and law enforcement officials in this important effort.
Oklahoma was the first state to pass legislation regulating the sale of pseudoephedrine — a main ingredient in meth — and there are fewer meth labs in the state. However, abuse of the drug has not lessened because users are relying on supply from outside the state.
Meth is a real threat that can’t be ignored and must not be allowed to continue to destroy lives and communities. By getting the word out about this drug and educating our young people, we can win this fight.
Remember to tune in January 13 and visit www.crystaldarknessoklahoma.org at any time.
- Sandy Garrett
Here is the weekly column of State schools superintendent Sandy Garrett.
Before we close the chapter on 2008, let’s look back on the progress made by schools amid the economic challenges that affect us all.
We began this year with the release of the annual Quality Counts report by Education Week. Oklahoma again ranked 10th nationally in teacher quality and 13th best in academic, testing and accountability standards.
January also brought news of nearly 1,750 teachers from 63 schools receiving bonus checks ranging from $500 to $3,000 as part of the Academic Achievement Awards program, funded by the state Legislature and based on Academic Performance Index scores for each school.
In March, Oklahoma was again ranked No. 1 in the nation for its pre-kindergarten programs by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The state also reached a milestone in 2008 by being the only state to offer voluntary, universal pre-kindergarten programs for its 4-year-olds for a decade.
During the spring, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education reported the second-lowest college-remediation rate of high school graduates in the past 10 years. This means progress is being made in better preparing students for college and the world of work. Further proof came when we had a record number of high schools students achieve the status of Oklahoma Academic Scholar. This year brought the highest number of scholars since the standards for this honor were placed in state law in 1986.
Test scores improved again this year, and the state average API score increased 27 points compared to 2007. This was 279 points higher than it was in the benchmark year of 2002.
In May, “The Nation’s Report Card” released the details of a study that documented the success of Oklahoma’s American Indian students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Once again, we saw that Oklahoma’s Native American students rank above their peers in other states.
This summer, I presented my annual State of Education Address on quality instructional time and technology to engage students as key components to improving Oklahoma schools. These two efforts increase each educator’s ability to raise student achievement and, at the same time, raise graduation rates.
This month, our state gained 324 new National Board Certified teachers.
Oklahoma is now ranked 5th in the nation for the percentage of its teaching force – nearly 6 percent – that are nationally certified. Our state is 10th nationally in the total number of teachers with this prestigious credential.
Education is certainly the foundation of our democracy and still plays a critical role in the economic development of our state and America. While much has changed in this system over the years, the importance and need to educate every person remains the same.
Thanks to the hard work and determination of students, their families and school faculties, Oklahoma schools made progress in 2008. We look forward to even more success in 2009.
The reading time with students is part of a national effort to break the world record for the number of children reading the same book with adults on the same day.
Some of my favorite books to read at the age of Garrett’s audience today — prekindergarten through second-grade children — were the “Amelia Bedelia” stories.
What are your favorite childhood books?
My family, when my brother and I still lived at home, used to eat dinner together most nights. This is a scenario that’s becoming more common, according to state Superintendent Sandy Garrett’s last weekly column.
Monday is “Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children,” a movement by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse and supported by Gov. Brad Henry by way of a proclamation, she wrote.
Complimentary books frequently make their way into the newsroom. I don’t have time to read them all — I’m still working my way through Jodi Picoult’s novels — but did receive one recently about a timely topic I think is worth sharing.
The book is called “Time to Learn,” and its premise is that the last school bell ringing out at 2:30 p.m. “makes no sense at all.”
Authors Christopher Gabrieli and Warren Goldstein write:
We wrote Time to Learn because we think it’s just the right time for a practical, large-scale transformation in American public education. We think it’s ‘time to learn’ from the available evidence — and we give you a ton of it in what follows — that our children need more ‘time to learn’ all of what they need to succeed and thrive in the twenty-first century. No one knows exactly how long the standard school schedule has clocked in at about six-and-a-half hours a day, or how it got to be that way, but just about everyone knows it’s not giving kids or teachers enough time to produce high school graduates well prepared for higher education, for the workplace of our newly global economy, or for citizenship in our democracy.
A little less than a year ago, State Superintendent Sandy Garrett called for a Time Reform Task Force to study the length of the school day and school year in Oklahoma. (Here’s a recap of their recommendations, and you can view the task force’s full report here.)
“If you want to raise expectations, this is the kind of discussion we need to be having,” Garrett said later.
So let’s have the discussion. Is the school day — or the school year — too short? And if you were in charge, what would you change?
Wendy K. Kleinman