Schools are pushed to serve breakfast in class

California schools could be required to serve breakfast in first-period classes or during a mid-morning break, reports Jane Meredith Adams on EdSource. Assembly Bill 1240 would align California with a national campaign called Breakfast After the Bell.

Chart showing that schools with more students who are low-income must provide free breakfast, under proposed legislation.

More children eat breakfast at school if they don’t have to come early and report to the cafeteria. Eating breakfast improves students’ “test scores, attendance, concentration and behavior,” according to advocates.

The bill requires schools to offer breakfast if 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Schools with 60 percent of low-income students must offer breakfast after the school day begins.

If 80 to 100 percent of students are from low-income families, the school must offer breakfast by 2016-17, breakfast “after the bell” by 2017-18 and free breakfast for all students by 2018-19.

In Los Angeles Unified, school breakfast participation rose from 29 percent to 81 percent of students when schools moved to serving breakfast in the classroom.

Laura Benavidez, co-director of Food Services for Los Angeles Unified, said teachers can use the time to take attendance, collect homework and read to students. “The upside is you have a child who is focused and ready to learn,” Benavidez said.

However, teachers complained breakfast takes too much time and attracts vermin, reports the Los Angeles Times. Including the clean-up, teachers said they lose 30 minutes of teaching time each day, according to the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Other “breakfast after the bell” models nationwide include grab-and-go breakfasts as students enter the school or mandatory cafeteria time before starting class.


Children eat breakfast in the classroom of their Ogden, Utah school. 

Sex ed: Too hot to handle?

“There is probably no subject that has posed greater headaches to teachers than sex education,” writes Jonathan Zimmerman in his new book, Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education.

“And no other topic illustrates the complexity and emotion that lies at the heart of the debates about parental, local, and federal control over education,” writes Jessica Lahey in What Schools Should Teach Kids About Sex.

In many U.S. districts — and around the world — students get “a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings about putting them to use,” writes Zimmerman, an NYU professor of history and education.

I learned in sex-ed movies that teens only have sex because of peer pressure. Nobody really wants it.

Young people can go online to sites such as Scarleteen.com, which has drawn 1 billion users since its launch in 2006, notes Lahey. Here are popular recent questions.

Learning about reproductive biology isn’t enough, sex advice columnist Dan Savage tells Lahey.

We should be teaching the real things that can trip people up, things that can ruin people’s lives or traumatize them, like what is and isn’t consent, and what is and isn’t on the menu, and what are you or are you not comfortable with, and how do you advocate for yourself, and how do you draw someone out and solicit their active consent so that you don’t accidentally traumatize someone? We need to talk about sex for pleasure, which is 99.99 percent of the sex that people have, and that’s 99.99 percent of what’s not covered …

Savage analogized the state of sex education today to a driver’s education class that focuses exclusively on the mechanics of the internal combustion engine, with no mention of brakes, steering, red lights, and stop signs. “That’s sex ed in America. We hand kids the keys to the car, and when they drive straight into walls, we say, ‘See? See? If we’d only kept them a little more ignorant, this wouldn’t be happening!’”

Diversity makes it harder for people to agree about how to teach about sex, says Zimmerman. Values vary. Globalization doesn’t mean liberalization, he writes in a New York Times commentary. “Globalization has served to curtail rather than expand school-based sexual instruction.”

On the move in Finland

More Recess

Worried about passive, phone-tapping kids, Finnish schools are trying to get students moving, writes Tim Walker in The Atlantic. An American, Walker lives in Helsinki and teaches in a bilingual school.

Kids in Finland have short school days and frequent 15-minute breaks — typically there’s one after each 45-minute lesson. And even though the breaks keep them more focused in the classroom, they don’t necessarily keep them more active at school.

Under the “On the Move” initiative, his school has turned sixth graders into “recess activators” for first and graders. Older kids lead the younger ones in games, such as Banana Tag.

In the fall, a new schedule will combine short recesses into at least one 30-minute break. Students in grades seven through nine will choose activities, such as yogalates, floor hockey, or gymnastics.

Teachers also are looking for “strategies for getting students to be more active during lessons,” writes Walker. These include “energizers” (short breaks from sitting), allowing kids to complete work while standing or while sitting on large bouncy balls.

He’s replaced oral presentations, which tend to be dull and time consuming, with the “gallery walk.”

Students fasten their presentations to the walls of the classroom or hallway as if they were exhibiting their work in an art gallery. Each display is numbered and the children rotate from exhibit to exhibit systematically, spending a minute or two carefully studying each one. To make this experience more meaningful, students provide written-feedback to each other as they’re visiting each display. Before they start the active gallery walk, I hand out sticky notes in two different colors. On one color, my sixth graders write questions about the work for the presenter to consider and on the other, they jot down positive observations.

On the Finnish Report Card 2014 on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Finnish kids received a “D” for physical activity levels, reports Walker, U.S. children earned a D- on the 2014 United States Report Card.

Why don’t kids walk to school?

Ten percent of U.S. children walk to school, according to CityWalk. In the late 1960s, nearly half walked to school.

I started kindergarten in 1957 in the kind of suburb people moved to “for the sake of the children.” We all walked — kids only — or bicycled to school.

Is it ADHD, fetal alcohol or both?

Some children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are “alcohol babies,” according to Ira Chasnoff, a Chicago pediatrician. Of 156 foster children referred for behavior disorders — most diagnosed with ADHD — 81 percent had fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), he found.

ADHD diagnoses have increased by 42 percent in 12 years, writes Olga Khazan in The Atlantic.

Unlike children affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, which is the most severe condition on the spectrum, those with other types of FASD may not have facial anomalies. Thus, the issue may go unnoticed by physicians for years.

“Many alcohol babies will look normal, so no one thinks of doing the toxicology,” Chasnoff said. Nationally, about 20 percent of women drink during pregnancy, but only about 3.6 percent of children have been diagnosed with FASD.

Of course, kids who’ve ended up in foster care are much more likely to have heavy-drinking mothers.

“About 74 percent of children with FASD do meet criteria for ADHD,” Chasnoff said, “but, because of all the neurochemistry changes from the alcohol, it’s a different kind of ADHD” and requires different treatment and medications.

Years ago, I visited a rehab program for drug-addicted mothers and their children. A staffer told me that “crack babies” get better. “Fetal alcohol babies” do not, she said. They suffer lifelong learning and behavioral disabilities.

Law tells parents to limit kids’ tech use

Taiwanese parents are required by law to limit their children’s use of technology to “reasonable” levels, reports Kabir Chibber on Quartz. What’s reasonable? The law doesn’t say. But it threatens to fine parents whose children become “physically or mentally” ill due to overuse of digital devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends a maximum of two hours a day of screen time for kids, found in a recent study that 8-year-olds in the U.S. spend an average of eight hours a day with some form of media—and many child-development psychologists urge more unstructured play time.

South Korea now regulates “online games and e-sports as if they were addictive substances,” writes Chibber.

Worried about addiction to online role-playing games, China limits online gamers to three hours of play at a time, reports BBC News. Games are set up to limit a game character’s ability if the player exceeds the three-hour limit.

What killed Kevin Green?

Kids’ screen time keeps growing

Kids spend hours a day looking at screens, writes Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic. Doctors fear screen junkies will suffer posture problems, carpal-tunnel pain, neck strain and eye problems, she writes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommends no more than two hours per day of screen time. In a new Australian study, published BMC Public Health, many students exceeded that.

 Close to half—46 percent—of all third-grade boys, on average, use screens for more than two hours per day, and that usage increases to 70 percent of boys on average by the time they reach ninth grade. Fewer third-grade girls—43 percent—use screens compared with their male counterparts, but that rate jumps to surpass boys’ average usage in ninth grade, to more than 90 percent of girls.

“Girls may have been doing more homework than the boys, and the boys may have been doing more sports [away from screens] or playing more video-games on hand-held devices,” says a pediatrician.

Some parents limit children’s screen time.

Let those children move

It’s no wonder that middle schoolers fidget, slouch and daydream, writes Angela Hanscom, an occupational therapist specializing in children, on Answer Sheet. They sit too much and move too little.

She tried spending a day in a local middle school. Students were supposed to sit still and pay attention for 90 minutes at a time, with only a brief break to switch classrooms, she writes. She couldn’t do it. After 45 minutes, “I’m no longer registering anything the teacher is saying,” she writes.

“About 50 percent of the children are fidgeting and most of the remaining children are either slouched in the most unnatural positions imaginable or slumped over their desks.”

She’d planned to observe for the whole day, but it’s too exhausting.  “I decide to leave right after lunch.”

There are “too many regulations, not enough time,” says a teacher. Another blames cramming for high-stakes tests.

They go on to explain that recess has been lost due to lack of space and time as well as fear that children will get injured. “Too many children were getting hurt,” says a teacher. “Parents were calling and complaining about scrapped knees and elbows – the rest was history.”

Snack time, once a brief break, is now used for a quick vocabulary lesson. P.E. is held every sixth day.

Children march silently to the cafeteria for lunch. They’re required to remain quiet and seated throughout the lunch period.

P.E. less than once a week, no recess, no snack break, no free time at lunch . . . I can’t believe this is typical. Is it?

Many schools have switched to block scheduling, which means longer class periods and fewer breaks in between. Common Core standards may encourage more to lengthen class periods.

Inactivity can lead to improper diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, writes Hanscon in Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today. There are right — and surprisingly wrong — ways to get kids to sit still in class, she argues.

Hanscom is the founder of TimberNook, an outdoor play program in New England.

Poor kids do worse in Baltimore than India

It’s harder to be a poor teenager in Baltimore than in Nigeria or India, according to a Johns Hopkins study, reports Vocativ.

Researchers analyzed health challenges faced by 2,400 15- to 19-year-olds from impoverished areas in Baltimore, Shanghai, Johannesburg (South Africa), Ibadan (Nigeria) and New Delhi.

Baltimore's slums are not far from skyscrapers (AP Photo)

Baltimore’s slums are not far from affluent areas (AP Photo)

In Baltimore, “adolescents exhibited considerably high rates of mental health issues, substance abuse, sexual risk-taking, sexual violence and teen pregnancy.” Johannesburg teens also fared poorly.

Baltimore and Johannesburg teens “don’t feel safe from violence,” said Kristen Mmari, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor. By contrast, Shanghai adolescents had little to fear from violence.

Half of young females in the Baltimore study said they’d been pregnant.

I suspect it’s harder to be poor in a wealthy country.