Tuesday, March 25, 2014

S.F. schools give students second chance at breakfast

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle 

Jerold Robinson (right), security, asks fifth grader Ameeya Broussard
(center), 10, if she wants her oranges as he and Paula Ramirez (right),
resource para professional, help students organize their Second Chance
breakfasts during recess at Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy
on Thursday, March 20, 2014, in San Francisco, Calif.
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
The antsy first-graders couldn't wait for recess.

As they headed out to a playground covered in sunshine at exactly 10 a.m., they eagerly grabbed a brown bag off a table and ran over to a bench - to eat brunch.

Technically, it was breakfast, one provided for free by the federal school meals program.

But too many of the students at San Francisco's Charles R. Drew Elementary were skipping the before-school breakfast, arriving too late to eat or not feeling hungry first thing in the morning. They ended up cranky in class, distracted by their growling tummies and less able to learn.

Two weeks ago, the school started offering them a second chance to eat - at recess. It's a pilot for the Second Chance Breakfast program for the school district.

Almost instantly, breakfast participation shot up from 100 students to 160, said Zetta Reicker, interim director of district student nutrition services.

"Now we can reach more children," said Drew Principal Tamitrice Rice Mitchell. "Every child has an opportunity to eat."

Boosting participation in breakfast programs has become a top priority in schools across the country, with research showing that a healthful morning meal improves attendance and academic performance while reducing behavior problems.

Better health habits

In addition, kids who eat breakfast at school are less likely to be overweight and more likely to eat fruit and drink milk, according to the national Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit working to eradicate hunger.

Educators say they don't need to see the research to see the positive impacts of eating breakfast.
"I can tell when it's time for me to eat - I'm cranky, I'm grumbling and snapping," Mitchell said, adding it's the same with children. "If I take care of my immediate needs, guess what's going to happen in the classroom."
About half the students who eat a school lunch also eat the school breakfast, according to state and national statistics.

In San Francisco, participation has been even lower, with about 25 percent of lunch eaters also getting breakfast, district officials said. Overall, only about 15 percent of low-income students, who are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, eat school breakfast across the district.

Reasons for skipping

The drop in participation can be attributed to late Muni buses or other delays in getting to school, a lack of hunger first thing in the morning, and choosing to mingle with friends instead of going to the cafeteria, Reicker said.

"The breakfast before school can be socially isolating," she said.

The second breakfast requires increased staff time, but the cost is more than covered by the extra federal funding the district gets for feeding more students.

One day this week, the breakfast menu featured a bagel with cream cheese, yogurt, milk and orange slices.
On another day, Stephanie Aguirre, 11, sat with friends on the Drew playground during the fifth-grade recess and peered into her breakfast bag. There was a container of whole-grain, cinnamon apple cereal shaped like happy faces, an apple, a hard-boiled egg and milk.

"For people that come too late or don't eat, they get to eat at recess," she said. "When you eat, your mind thinks more."

Her classmate Kiara Lampkin, 11, agreed.

"It gives you a chance to think and learn," she said as she ate the egg white and then the yolk, adding that it was good but would be better with salt, which isn't included because it's a no-no under federal health guidelines.

The second-chance breakfast is one of several national strategies promoted by nutrition advocates and federal agencies to get more kids eating that morning meal.

In San Francisco, district officials are also testing a breakfast-in-class model at Bryant Elementary, with meals delivered to classrooms first thing in the morning. Teachers use the time to teach nutrition and other health topics, Reicker said.

Various alternatives

The two pilots are part of the district's broader effort to increase participation in school meals.
Middle and high schools offer a grab-and-go breakfast at a few locations on campus, making the meals more convenient than a visit to the cafeteria.

In addition, three schools, Balboa High School, Marina Middle School and Glen Park Elementary, are offering supper to students in the after-school program; it's a well-rounded meal that includes things like hummus and pita chips, Reicker said.

"It's absolutely not meant to replace the home meal," she said. "But a lot of our families need that extra support.

"Unfortunately, some of our families don't have enough to make ends meet."

Online extra

To see a video on the Second Chance Breakfast program, go to http://bit.ly/1jdizgq.

Friday, March 21, 2014

California public schools to test students via computers


Next Tuesday, most California public school students will take an assessment test they have never taken before. This one will replace the old STAR test. It will now be called the Smarter Balanced Field Test. 

Imagine a world where students take a paperless test to measure their achievement. In California, that test will be launched in a few days.

Students at James Lick Middle School in San Francisco have been doing practice runs ahead of the test called the Smarter Balanced Field Test.

On the new test some of the questions are like the old STAR test with multiple choices. Others will ask you to drag and drop the answer in the correct box, draw your answer, write the answer or fill in the blank.

"It's now a two-part. What's the best answer to this one and now say why," John Burke, the Assessment Office supervisor.

Only this year, students will not receive an individual score. That also means for the first time in years, the state will not hold schools accountable for how well a student performs, like it did with the No Child Left Behind Act. However, it starts counting next year.

This allows school districts to make sure their network is fast enough and able to handle all the students at their schools. Think of it as a fire drill. Also, the results of the test will be used to see if the questions are good enough to be used on the test next year.

"The students, through their interaction with the computer, will be saying whether they are able to navigate an item and whether they are able to answer correctly or not," said Burke.

Some students say they're excited to learn a lot more about computers and how to use them. Another student we spoke to said it felt the same as taking the test on paper.

Parents may want to know more about the test. You can get more information on the California Department of Education website www.cde.ca.gov.

The new test will be given to students in grades 3 through 8 and in high school only to 11th graders.

How to be happy? Ask these high school students

 By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Friends. Family. Music. Money. Health. Dogs.

Students at Thurgood Marshall High School in San Francisco are happy about a lot of things in their lives, sharing their good feelings on a tree of happiness Thursday to celebrate the United Nations International Day of Happiness.

The International Day of Happiness tree at Thurgood Marshall High School
The International Day of Happiness tree at Thurgood Marshall High School

Zucaru Ruth, a senior, was so happy she wore heels to school — a rare-but-beloved wardrobe choice given the three flights of stairs she climbs up and down at school each day.

“I’m also happy to be who I am because I know who I am,” she said.

With a little prodding she shared who she is: “Very intelligent, smart, open-minded, I would say outgoing, a leader. I can say enthusiastic.”

And definitely happy.

Students spread the happiness, writing what makes them happy on the tree’s leaves. As the day wore on, the paper tree filled with those leaves.

“I woke up on the good side,” said 11th grader Kashee Tausi, 16. “It’s a pretty day and I’m looking good; we get out early.” On her leaves, she wrote “family,” “me,” “my friends,” “my dog,” and “the world.”

Students and staff at Thurgood Marshall High School and their tree of happiness.
Students and staff at Thurgood Marshall High School and their tree of happiness.

The effort, coordinated by peer resources teacher Neelam Patil, shifted the entire mood of school, students and staff said.

“I think, as human beings, the tendency is there are 10 positives to each negative and we focus on the negative,” Patil said. “When they start talking about what they’re happy about they get happy.”

– Jill Tucker

Monday, March 17, 2014

San Francisco's Bilingual Programs as Effective as English Only, Study Finds

By the time they reach 5th grade, English-language learners in San Francisco's public schools were equally proficient in English regardless of whether they had been in a bilingual program or had received all their instruction in English, a recent study from Stanford University researchers has found.

Though ELLs who were in bilingual education programs in San Francisco lagged in the earlier grades, they also scored similarly on the state's academic tests and had virtually the same rates of reclassification to English-fluent status by 5th grade as their ELL peers who were in the district's English-immersion program.

One notable exception: By 5th grade, higher numbers of Latino ELLs in bilingual programs reached the "mid-basic" level of achievement on the state's English/language arts exam than their Latino ELL peers in English-immersion. Mid-basic is a score of 325 on the state's former ELA exam (out of 600 points) and was the required minimum score to be considered for reclassification to English-proficient status, among other criteria. (California this year is not giving its old state tests as it transitions to the common-core aligned tests designed by Smarter Balanced.)

These results shedding light on the effectiveness of four distinct instructional programs offered to ELLs in the San Francisco district come just as there's growing momentum to repeal California's 15-year-old restrictions on bilingual education in public schools. For years, debates over the most effective methods of English-language instruction have often gotten snarled in political and ideological disagreements.

The study—commissioned by the San Francisco district and conducted by Sean Reardon at Stanford—compared the progress of English-learners as they moved from kindergarten through elementary grades and into middle school by looking at their scores on California's annual English-language proficiency tests, the rates at which they were reclassified as English-fluent, and their scores on state exams. The study also looked at the differences in effectiveness between the district's two largest groups of ELLs: Chinese speakers and Spanish speakers.

The study's sample was 18,000 English-learners who entered kindergarten in San Francisco between 2002 and 2010. About 37 percent of the district's student population is ELL. Forty percent are native Spanish speakers; 40 percent are Chinese speakers, and 20 percent speak a diverse array of other languages.

San Francisco, in spite of the restrictions imposed by Proposition 227, has maintained a robust offering of language-learning pathways for English-learners. Under Prop. 227, parents can sign waivers that allow their children to receive bilingual instruction.

In the study's sample, 9,000 English-learner students were in the district's English-immersion program, 4,000 were in its bilingual maintenance program, 3,000 in the transitional bilingual program, and 2,000 in dual-language programs that also include native English speakers.

The study also revealed a major achievement gap between Chinese-speaking English learners and their Spanish-speaking peers. Chinese-speaking ELLs reached English-language proficiency in greater numbers and more rapidly than Spanish-speaking ELLs across all four language programs.

Learning plus fun is formula for Pi Day

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Damaris Orellana (left, with classmate Jahmal Bolãnos) says she wants to
write out pi instead of recite it.
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
 Math teacher Marcus Hung squinted in mock concentration.

"3.1415," he said before pausing dramatically and then smiling. "That's about it."

Reciting the digits of the irrational number pi is not his specialty. Teaching pi is.

On Friday, his class of high school freshmen and sophomores at San Francisco's June Jordan School for Equity was devoted to pi. And, actually, pie too.

It was officially Pi Day, not coincidentally on March 14 (3/14), a national celebration of the weird, infinite number that allows us to find the area of a circle. But it's also an irrational number, one that goes on and on without repetition of a pattern.

"It plays with your mind," said ninth-grader Eileen Molina, 14.

That, Hung said, is exactly the point of pi and, specifically, Pi Day.

"We're really wanting students to think deeply about what the number implies," he said. "It's a high-level idea."

Freshman Nikki Whittaker, 15, agreed.

"It is a weird, creepy number," she said. "You could start writing it, then have your grandchildren and their grandchildren write it out and they still wouldn't finish."

Yet, undeniably, it's a handy little number, portrayed as the Greek letter pi, a wavy, two-legged table-type symbol.

With a circle laid out in the middle of his classroom floor using colored plastic hoops and straight pieces cutting across the middle, Hung walked the perimeter and then followed the line down the center.

"That," he said, "is pi."

A few students squinted in real concentration and didn't smile.

"We've got this idea that pi is about area," Hung told the students. "I want you to consider that pi can be other things."

And yet, this was Pi Day, which wouldn't really be Pi Day without a contest to see who could recite the most digits of pi.

Hung, clearly not a competitor, kept track of each student's effort. Nikki recited 54 digits, and although she left out one tiny little number 9 toward the end, she still snagged first place. Those who competed were first in line for a piece of pie because it wouldn't really be Pi Day without actual pie.

As students filed out for lunch post-pie, Hung said he generally wants students to have a deep grasp of concepts rather than memorize and recite by rote, but it's also important to make math fun.

"We have holidays celebrating history," Hung said. "Thinking about math as something we can celebrate is really important."

And unlike a lot of other numbers, pi is fun, but it's also really profound, he said.

Then Hung looked down at the empty round pie tins that contained a smattering of pumpkin and key lime pie crumbs.

"These aren't actually pies," he said of the tins, pausing dramatically and then smiling. "Because pi r²."