Middle School Talented and Gifted Programs Need Improvement

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The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Khadija Bowen

My daughter wakes up at 6:30 every morning. She gets herself ready for school but she does not have to do much, because she has to wear a uniform — plain khaki pants and plain green polo shirt. She cannot make her hair fancy because the school dress code says headbands and other accessories that make her an individual are strictly prohibited. Before she runs out of the house, she grabs her mesh backpack and goes to her bus stop at 7:45. This school only allows clear or mesh backpacks for the children’s own protection. On her hour-and-a-half long bus ride, she must wear ear phones and play music to drown out the chaos and drama around her.

She hopes there will not be a fight, but she cannot tell because of all the noise and horseplay that is happening around her. She gets to school and keeps her head down because that was the advice she was given from older friends that also attended this school. “Keep your head down, try to ignore the drama and stay close to a few good friends,” they told her. Even though there are cameras everywhere, watching their every movement, somehow violence is still prevalent and random locker searches are still necessary. So she continues to follow the instructions and walk to her class hoping there will not be any drama today, but she has lost confidence that this advice will prove useful.

She used to be confident that her inside knowledge was key to navigating the hallways and common areas at this school, but that was prior to her good friend being trampled during an altercation that she was not a part of. Her friend was sent home from school and needed medical attention due to the incident. The young girl returned to school the next day with a boot on her foot. My daughter and her friends followed the instructions but my daughter’s friend still got hurt. Now my daughter wonders, “Will I be next?”

Today, she gets to her classes unscathed, but she is only partially stimulated because either she has a substitute or her teachers are so burnt out that they have lost the enthusiasm to develop stimulating lesson plans. She has had a substitute in English for most of the year, so she knows there won’t be much to do in that class, but she focuses on the instruction as much as she can and completes whatever she is tasked to do. In the past, math has been so unengaging that she and her friends paint their nails or just have side conversations to get through that class period. Finally, the day is nearly complete. After the last bell rings, she finds her iPod again, puts in her earphones, and prepares herself for the hour-and-a-half ride home.

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Prince George’s Schools Budget Questions Answered for FY 2019

Earlier this year, members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools submitted questions about the Fiscal Year 2019 proposed operating budget for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGPCS). The Office of Budget and Management Services, under the direction of John Pfister, has prepared answers.

The questions and their answers are found below (and available in PDF format here). It may be helpful to refer to the proposed Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2018, found here.

1. What is the average per student cost of the specialty programs below relative to the cost at neighborhood schools without any additional programs?

  • Language immersion
  • Performing Arts
  • TAG [Talented and Gifted]
  • Montessori

The average per student cost for specialty programs is provided below:

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2. Does PGCPS have non-resident students that attend PGCPS schools (from DC, adjacent counties)? If so, how much funding does PGCPS receive from those jurisdictions?

In FY 2017, Prince George’s County Public Schools received the following funding from other jurisdictions for non-resident students:

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NOTE: Students identified in this chart may be prorated based on the days in a non-resident status.

3. Are there any programs/resources geared towards expanding language exposure in neighborhood elementary schools?

It is the intent of this administration, when financially feasible, to expand language programs at the elementary school level. Currently, the following schools offer a world language.

Barack Obama ES
Judith P. Hoyer Montessori
Montpelier ES
Melwood ES
Rosaryville ES
Patuxent ES
Oaklands ES
Phyllis E. Williams Spanish Immersion
Fort Foote ES
University Park ES
Ardmore ES
Berwyn Heights ES
Paint Branch ES
Greenbelt ES
Accokeek Academy
Capitol Heights ES
Glenarden Woods ES
Heather Hills ES
Highland Park ES
Longfields ES
Mattaponi ES
Valley View ES
John Hanson Montessori
Robert Goddard Montessori

4. Does funding for expansion/continuity of specialty program include additional transportation needs?

The funds to support the expansion/continuity of specialty programs does, when necessary, include additional transportation needs. The expansions that are currently included in the FY 2019 Proposed Budget, however, do not require additional transportation funds.

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Largo Parent Asks Board to Approve Online Credit Recovery Program

Candace Leach, president of the Largo High School PTSA, made the following statement during the public comments portion of the December 19 Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting. She has given us permission to print it here. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

Good evening Board.

My name is Candace Leach, and I am the Largo High School PTSA President. I have had two children to graduate from Largo, in 2016 and 2017. I currently have one scholar attending Largo, slated to graduate in 2020. I want to take a moment to re-introduce Largo High School to you. Where we are a school that strives for academic and athletic excellence, the atmosphere throughout our building can simply be described as “Family,” and with every family, the support system for our scholars continues to amaze me day by day, week by week, and month by month.

I stand before you today, to urge you to approve the online credit recovery program. As you ponder your decision, consider what happens to our Prince George’s County Public School scholars that can’t afford the $480.00 for evening high school. Consider how having an after school online credit recovery program can aid in keeping the dropout rates down, while encouraging our scholars to “catch up” and graduate on time. With no safety net for our scholars, how do you explain in good conscience that you voted with the best interest of these scholars in mind?

When we look across the state, other jurisdictions have some type of credit recovery program. Also keep in mind, failure is also a part of the learning process. It’s not about getting it right the first time, but about having the will to keep trying until you succeed. With an affordable option, such as the current $150.00 for the credit recovery program, it gives each and every scholar an option to work on learning the content or standards of the course, so that they can continue to fulfill the requirements of the Maryland State diploma.

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PGCPS Home Schooling Office Helps Families Transition to Learning at Home

by Alana Cole-Faber

Last month, my family made the big, scary transition to home schooling. For years, I was one of those parents who proclaimed loudly and repeatedly, “I could never, ever home school my children! People who do that must be crazy!” However, after a less-than-ideal public school experience, we were having a hard time getting our children to maintain a positive attitude about learning. I felt like we needed to hit the reset button, so I took a deep breath — okay, several deep breaths — and filled out the application to home school.

IMG_4875Parents wishing to home school in Prince George’s County essentially have two options: 1) join an umbrella group that will oversee your home s
chool or 2) create your own curriculum and submit a portfolio to PGCPS for review. I decided I wanted to be on my own rather than join an umbrella group. Research told me this would mean participating in two PGCPS portfolio reviews each year. Ack! Scary! I read horror stories online about other parents in Maryland who had terrible experiences with their portfolio reviews. These stories had me convinced that at portfolio review time, I would have to sit across a table from some judgmental person in a suit yelling at me that I was a terrible teacher and a complete failure as a parent! (Note to self: Don’t read the Internet. The Internet is terrifying.) I was so intimidated that I very nearly gave up. There was no way I could do this!

Just when I was beginning to lose my nerve, I attended a PGCPS workshop for parents who are new to home schooling. It was led by the PGCPS Home Schooling Office, which is responsible for providing support and ensuring that parents are complying with Maryland state law. The workshop was fantastic. They reviewed what the law requires, discussed what is entailed in a portfolio review, and even shared some sample portfolios. They came across as very knowledgeable and experienced. Most importantly, they were kind and helpful. It was not scary at all! For me, the greatest value came in the reassurances from PGCPS staff that their goal was to support parents, not judge them. As long as I was covering the required subjects* on a regular basis, I could teach whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and no one was going to yell at me. If I wanted to plan a physical education lesson on how to juggle live mice, I could do that. I would just have to document it for the portfolio.

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Updated: ‘Hidden Figures’ Field Trip Is Back On After Parents Write Letter

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The following letter was sent to Dr. Judith White, in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction of Prince George’s County Public Schools, in response to a decision not to approve a field trip to see the film Hidden Figures.

UPDATE: After additional research by the Department of Curriculum and Research, Dr. White has approved this film for PGCPS students in grades 4-12.

Dear Dr. White,

We are parents of fourth graders at Greenbelt Elementary School. We were dismayed to learn that our children’s field trip to see the movie Hidden Figures was canceled because your office has deemed the movie inappropriate for fourth grade students, and we urge you to reconsider.

We are sure you’re aware that the movie features the true story of African-American women who worked on the first moon landing. You may not be aware that the movie has been a very popular choice for teachers in upper elementary grades who want to inform and inspire their students. Schools around the country, including some in St. Louis, MO, Seattle, WA, and Nashville, TN have arranged showings of the movie for their fourth graders. There is a great variety of background information and sample lesson plans available to teachers who wish to make the outing more than just a trip to the movies. The parent-run media information site Common Sense Media, which we have found to be fair and also quite conservative in their age recommendations, suggests the movie is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

The Greenbelt Elementary School field trip was nearly ideal. Students would be able to walk from their school to an historic theater in town, encouraging healthful habits in addition to the inspiring content of the film. Women engineers from NASA were going to be on hand to answer student’s questions after the movie. Parents who object to the film have the option, as they have with every field trip, to refuse to give permission for their child to participate. Given the County’s push for students who are college and career ready, especially in STEM fields, we hope you will reconsider your decision and allow the field trip to go on as planned.

Sincerely,

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Parent Asks for Expansion of Language Immersion Programs

Delores Millhouse presented a version of this testimony during the public comment portion of the September 22 Board of Education work session. Ms. Millhouse is the co-founder of My Bilingual Child, a parent advocacy group for Spanish Immersion programs in Prince George’s County Public Schools. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Delores Millhouse

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As the co-founder of My Bilingual Child, a parental advocacy group that has advocated very strongly for Spanish Language Immersion programs, I thank you for the broadened program offerings that include Spanish and Chinese Immersion programs. Today, I come before you to recommend that before you approve the PGCPS FY 2018-2023 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), that it is clearly outlined in the plan, the use of underutilized facilities or the construction of new facilities that will accommodate the expansion of language immersion programs, such as Spanish and Chinese, that are not currently budgeted for middle and high school immersion tracks from grades six through twelve.

Your prior commitment to providing more rigorous programing and increased specialty program options has answered the call of many families who felt that their options were relocating and/or enrolling their children into private schools. My Bilingual Child has an army of parents that support our advocacy efforts. These parents and community members are pleased with their decision of enrolling their children in the PGCPS language immersion programs and are working very closely with us to support the administration and BOE decision to ensure the expansion of these programs is successful.

My son is currently enrolled in the first grade at Phyllis E. Williams Spanish Immersion School in District 6. He is enjoying what he calls a new challenge because he is able to learn all of his subjects in Spanish — not just Math and Science, as he did at Capitol Heights Elementary School. He has stressed to me his desire to master Spanish so he can start learning Mandarin and Arabic. Therefore I stand before you to stress the importance of continuing your support of “high-demand” programs to include the expansion of Spanish and Chinese language immersion programs.

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A Teacher’s Perspective on the Junior Achievement Finance Park

by Natalie Barnes

IMG_7453When I first heard that all eighth graders would be participating in the Junior Achievement Finance Park curriculum, I was not looking forward to the experience. I assumed that it would be just one more thing to try to fit into the already jam-packed school year. However, in the end, I was delighted by the experience and look forward to participating in the future.

I attended a training at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year that shared highlights of the curriculum and took us on a tour of the location. I was still a bit confused, but the coordinators promised that once we looked at our curriculum guides, it would make much more sense. And they were right. The curriculum guide was well put-together, with color-coded organization, clear instructions, and detailed explanations. It also provided teaching suggestions, extension activities, and probing questions. The county required that we only cover a few lessons (shared between social studies and math class), which were mandatory material for the experience. However, there was a plethora of additional material for students who needed differentiation or teachers who had more time to further explore the content. Overall, the curriculum took approximately a week in math class and a week in social studies, although teachers were free to customize this for their classes as long as they met the minimum lesson requirements.

Each student had his or her own workbook.  These were consumable workbooks that were designed to be engaging to students with various graphics as well as plenty of activities and space to work—all in full color.

The fourteen required lessons covered four main topics:

  • Income
  • Saving, Investing, and Risk Management
  • Debit and Credit
  • Budget

Income and Budget were covered in math classes while the remaining topics were taught in social studies classes. While many situations were geared to future careers and salaries, students also spent a great deal of time analyzing situations and jobs that are common for middle and high school students. Many of my students were engaged as they examined current and future potential situations, applying the principles of financial literacy to their own lives. This became even more true as we prepared to attend the Financial Park.

The entire field trip was free of charge to students, ensuring that every student could come. The buses were prompt and because they were not school buses, students were excited to attend, and they felt like this was a special experience. When we arrived, they were ushered into the Financial Park auditorium to receive a brief overview of the day’s activities. But after only a few moments, they were split into groups and assigned a volunteer who would serve as their group leader for the day. Many of the volunteers were teachers, parents, student teachers, or community members. The students were often pleased to be working with an adult they knew. It was particularly advantageous to some of our students with learning disabilities or other special needs as they were able to be placed with supportive chaperones who allowed them to participate fully. We had a group who spoke very little English, which was assigned to a chaperone who also spoke Spanish, allowing the day to be conducted bilingually, truly allowing all the students to engage with the activities.

As they were assigned groups, each student received an iPad and a fictional scenario about their job, salary, marital status, and family situation. From there, they determined their monthly gross income and monthly net income, using the iPad. On the iPad, they then set a budget, allotting money for housing, transportation, utilities, food, clothing, entertainment, etc. During the budgeting time, they explored the Finance Park, which has various stations devoted to each of these categories, allowing students to research costs before making a final decision. After lunch, students then revisited each of these stations and actually “purchased” items. They had to first decide on renting an apartment or buying a house and then owning a car or using public transportation. Many times they had frustrating realizations that they simply could not afford the home or car of their dreams and had to settle for less expensive options. Once they had determined their housing and transportation options, students were then given a “debit card” linked to their iPad and account. They went shopping to the various stations around the Finance Park, buying different products and quickly realizing that their money supply was not endless. After their purchasing time was up, they worked through reflection activities with their chaperone and made any final changes to their monthly spending. One aspect of the reflection included a random event that caused them to spend money (e.g. the car needed repairs, the refrigerator stopped working, a child broke her arm).

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