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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PGCPS Elementary Foreign Language Offerings

by Katherine McElhenny

IMG_7154Have you ever wondered about the foreign language offerings at your local elementary school? Or how your school compares to others in the district?

No? Neither had I until recently.

Our family was out at a restaurant when we ran into a friend whose daughter had attended nursery school with my daughter. Immediately, the two kindergartners began comparing their schools. Our friend was proud of her brand new uniforms and Chinese classes. My daughter boasted of her Russian classes.

The parents were taken aback.

Chinese? Russian? Who knew? What was offered elsewhere? My curiosity was piqued.

A compilation of the district’s foreign language offerings was nowhere to be found on the PGCPS website.  Instead, the chart below was cobbled together from emails and calls to the World Language Office along with teachers and staff at individual schools.

Is your elementary school one of over one hundred that is not listed?  According to PGCPS, those students do not receive any foreign language instruction.

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Free University Courses Through Dual Enrollment Program

by Beth McCracken-Harness

When you are thinking about what your teenagers will do over the summer, you might consider a concurrent enrollment class at University of Maryland, College Park. This opportunity is open to talented high school seniors.

My son took courses there in history and PE over the summer, earning an A- and an A. He just got accepted to the University of Maryland, and I think that having previously taken courses there helped.

These courses were paid for by Prince George’s County Public Schools, through the Dual Enrollment Program. Tuition at any public Maryland college is fully covered by PGCPS, and fees and textbooks are also covered for those students who qualify for free and reduced meals. This month, PGCPS is hosting two information sessions for the Dual Enrollment Program.

To enroll in a UMD course, my son had to apply to the university under their concurrent enrollment program for high school students. (That was good practice for applying to colleges in his senior year.) The process was more complicated than taking a course at Prince George’s Community College, but it was well worth it.

To do this:

1) Register for the Dual Enrollment Program through PGCPS: http://www1.pgcps.org/dualenrollment/

For more information, speak with your professional school counselor, or email the PGCPS Dual Enrollment office at dual.enrollment@pgcps.org.

2) Enroll at the University of Maryland, College Park under their concurrent enrollment program for high school students:
http://admissions.umd.edu/requirements/SpecialAudiences.php

The deadline to apply for the summer session is May 1. The application is processed through the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and may take up to six weeks. For additional information, contact: um-admit@umd.edu.

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Writing Across the Curriculum: One Math Teacher’s Experience

In December, the Washington Post published an article describing the new literacy program in Prince George’s County Public Schools that requires teachers of all subjects to teach literacy skills in the classroom. One middle school math teacher has shared with us her experience with the new program. She has asked to remain anonymous.

Last fall, I learned that my students would be required to complete a literacy assignment as part of the new county-wide literacy initiative. Previously, our focus had been on the Formative Assessment for Maryland Educators (FAME) tasks. These tasks combine math and literacy skills by having students solve real-life problems and explain their thinking. With the new program, in addition to completing the FAME tasks, students would write five-paragraph essays.

During a subsequent school-wide professional development meeting, I learned that each department across our school would be completing the same writing task, which mirrors the SAT essay. Social studies would complete the assignment in October, science in November, math in December, creative arts, health, and physical education in January, and language arts and world languages in March. The goal is for each department to conduct the same activity with the students to see if there is marked improvement in student reading and writing across content areas.

Every prompt is nearly identical. The basic task takes the form, “Write an essay in which you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade his audience that [insert author’s claim here].”

Here is the one used for my class:

writingPrompt

With each prompt is an essay for students to read and analyze.  For math students across the county in December, Grade 6 and 7 students read an excerpt from Math Doesn’t Suck, a book written by Danica McKellar and Grade 8 students read the article “Teaching Kids Why Math Matters” by Cindy Donaldson in order to complete the analysis of an argument writing prompts.

We are told to have the students complete this assignment in ten steps.

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