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Does school have to be boring?

April 7, 2019
Saline High School
Hornet Hub at Saline High School

The New York Times published an opinion piece on Sunday, March 30, 2019, entitled, “High School Doesn’t Have to be Boring.”  The authors spent six years traveling about the US, visiting schools, and talking with students. Remarkably, nearly 75% of elementary-aged school children report feeling challenged by the schoolwork. This percentage drops to less than 35% by grade eleven. Older students do not feel academically challenged. To “cover the curriculum,” teachers skim, noting dates/times/events, yet rarely engage or challenge students to dig deeper into difficult content.

Surprising to the researchers was the discovery that the deeper dives into the curriculum were not happening in core academic classes. This discovery-type learning was occurring in extra-curricular areas, elective courses, and clubs. Personally, I was struck by the quote,

“As we spent more time in schools, however, we noticed that powerful learning was happening most often at the periphery — in electives, clubs, and extracurriculars.”

In these spaces – labs, theaters, studios, businesses, and outdoor learning environments – teachers and students are actively engaged and working in concert to discover, innovate, create, and learn. The authors report that these high school students were already engaged and motivated; no additional innovation was necessary. Activities such as these were seen in all high schools, not just those that were typically “high performing.”

In Saline, we are often criticized for the perceived over-emphasis on extracurricular activities.  The reality is – we do put a lot of emphasis on these experiences for our students. As the researchers learned in the New York Times article, the importance of a variety of elective courses, clubs, sports, and music/drama/theater activities is as important as a rigorous academic curriculum.  Saline High School boasts 81 different clubs and thirty-three varsity sports. These clubs and sports provide a plethora of critical and engaging learning opportunities. For some students, these clubs, athletics, and elective courses pique the students’ interests and keep them in school. The benefits that students receive cannot be measured by a test score or a grade. These co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences help shape students into well-rounded adults who become contributing members in society. For some students, a club or sport is the reason they stay in school. It is crucial for us to remember the value if these experiences beyond the surface of the activity itself.

Saline High School Wind Ensemble

School Quality Survey: Why It Matters

March 19, 2019

Our students are always learning and growing, and it’s critical that Saline Area Schools learns and grows along with them. That’s why we conduct our School Quality Survey every school year.

This year’s survey launched this week. If you are a parent, staff member, or student in grades 6-12 – you received an email titled “Take the School Quality Survey”

It’s easy for me to say you should participate in this survey. (And you should!) But why?

Saline Area Schools is committed to community involvement, transparent decision making, and effective use of our resources. In that spirit, Saline Area Schools makes improvements based on what we learn from our stakeholders in the School Quality Survey. For example, previous survey results have led us to provide teachers with additional training on how to make lessons more relevant to student lives. We also updated our school menus to increase the variety of nutritious and delicious food options.

Additionally, we’ll ask some questions about my performance as your Superintendent.  I take that feedback very seriously and will use it to more effectively do my job on behalf of our community.

Participating is easy and entirely confidential. Just grab your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and click the survey link in your email invitation. The parent survey is offered in English and Spanish.

Have questions about the survey or how we use the results? Let’s Talk! I look forward to hearing from you!

Talking about Race with Young Children

March 16, 2019

We’ve had several Community Conversations related to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Saline.  One topic that has come up by both parents and staff is the issue of talking about race with each other – especially our children/students.  Speaking with community member Channon Washington, she noted, “Families of color have to talk about race at early ages – often and always. It is a misnomer and does a disservice to White students if parents do not engage their young children in these conversations early.”

Recently, National Public Radio shared information on talking to young children about race. The story noted that even babies notice differences like skin color, eye shape, and hair texture.  Some of the ideas about how to handle conversations about race, racism, diversity, and inclusion, even with very young children are listed below:

A few things to remember:

  • Be proactive, helping them build a positive awareness of diversity.
  • Don’t shush or shut them down if they mention race.
  • Don’t wait for kids to bring it up.
  • When a child experiences prejudice, grown-ups need to both address the feelings directly and fight the prejudices.
  • You don’t have to avoid topics like slavery or the Holocaust.  Instead, give the facts and focus on resistance and allies.

Some additional Resources:

  • Babies begin to notice race at six months old – in fact according to this pair of studies by Professor Kang Lee at the University of Toronto, they actually show signs of racial bias by this age.
  • One in 10 children is multiracial – according to Pew Research Center.  This includes children with parents of two different races, plus those with at least one multiracial parent.

Community Conversations – January 24th & 29th

January 22, 2019
Community Conversation

Earlier this year I hosted two “Community Conversation” meetings to discuss issues of diversity in our community. They were well attended and we had some honest conversations about the challenges we face. I would like to host two more to continue the conversation. As always, other issues are open for discussion as well.

There are a lot of issues we can discuss – district growth, school calendar, social & emotional health, and many more… You bring the topics.  With that said, I would like talk about the issue of diversity, equity & inclusion as it relates to our community and Saline Area Schools.  What role do we play as a school district?  What role should we play?

The dates are Thursday, January 24th from 10:00am- 11:15am at Brewed Awakenings and Tuesday, January 29th from 6:30pm-7:45pm at Liberty School Board Room. Please stop by, say hello and bring any thoughts about the district you feel I should know.

If you can’t make it, feel free to use “Let’s Talk” and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you,
Scot Graden

Houghton School to Cypress Ridge

December 18, 2018

Last week I was reflecting on the decision we made to close and later demolish Houghton Elementary School.  This led to the sale and residential development that is now Cypress Ridge. Closing and demolishing a building can be a hard issue for a school district to manage.  They are often full of nostalgia and hold fond memories.  However, that sentimental longing for the past can hold us back from moving forward for the benefit of future generations.  I am thankful we moved forward as a community – we are benefiting from that decision today.


Digital Parenting

December 16, 2018

Tech.LiteracyEarlier this week, I had the opportunity to host a community conversation. The topic of that conversation was the use of social media by our students. In many ways, the exchange was a broader conversation about the impact of technology on instruction, classroom management, social interactions, and families.  This community discussion included parents with both younger students as well as high school students. We developed a list of “do and do not” for social media use. It’s a good starting point for discussions in the classroom and at home. The one unifying theme amongst all participants is that the use of social media is evolving at a fast pace. It is challenging to keep pace with the many facets of social media – at school and at home.

There are no easy answers, and no “one size fits all” solution.  We discussed some general guidelines for parents, and some general talking points to help parents navigate the world of parenting in this digital age.  We know that technology can be very, very addictive for young people (adults too!). While we do not know or understand the science on how technology use impacts developing minds, we do know that there are social and physical implications.  Extensive, unrestricted use of technology can cause depression, loneliness, and other health/safety problems. The first landmark study on the effect of screen time on developing brains was released earlier this year. The results are staggering.

The group did agree that one of the critical aspects of steering young people toward the healthy use of technology is to stay engaged, aware, and involved. It’s important to set expectations and to establish clear guidelines for technology use and screen time that are consistent with the non-digital world (IRL for the students reading this). If you wouldn’t allow your child to bully someone in person, then it seems disingenuous to permit that behavior online. Teaching and modeling how to be kind in an online environment is an essential part of that understanding.

Parenting can be challenging. Young people with access to the digital world further complicate parenting decisions.  Setting clear parameters for what is permitted online will help alleviate some of those challenges. Restricting access to personal devices at times is a good thing. Children and teens need structure and limits to develop and grow into responsible citizens. Modeling the expected, appropriate behavior is essential, too. Family meals where no technology is permitted is a good beginning. Just as adults show children how to develop a healthy lifestyle with eating, exercise, and sleep, it is equally as important to model healthy behavior with the use of personal electronic devices.

Finally, we are raising a generation of digital natives. For parents, this is unchartered territory. Talk with other parents. Read. Learn about the positive and negative impacts of screen time, social media, and personal technology. It’s a fascinating time in which to raise the next generation. Let’s be cautious and prudent in our efforts to guide these youth toward positive, healthy use of personal devices, the internet, and social media.

Community Conversation – December 12th

November 28, 2018

Community Conversation

One concern I hear a great deal about (and deal with as a parent) is the issue of social media use by our students.  This is a complex issue and one that is not likely going away soon.  In an effort to share some thoughts and ideas, as well as, gather feedback from the community – I will be hosting a “Community Conversation” meeting to discuss the issue.

There are several aspects to the issue we can discuss – Do’s & Don’ts for young students.  What role do we play as a school district?  What role should we play?

I will be hosting the conversation on Wednesday, December 12th from 9:30am- 11:00am at the Saline District Library, 555 N. Maple Rd. Please stop by, say hello and bring any thoughts about the district you feel I should know.

If you can’t make it, feel free to use “Let’s Talk” and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you,
Scot Graden

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