Thursday, July 25, 2013

Helmets on Handlebars: Are you kidding me?

I am baffled by the adults I see biking with a helmet on the handlebars.  What are they thinking?  When the unexpected occurs, do they think they'll have the time and reflexes to grab the helmet from the handlebars and strap it on as they're going down?  More likely they think, "It can't happen to me."

But of course it can happen to them.  It happened to my husband 10 days ago. He was riding the lakefront path on a clear sunny morning; the path he's ridden virtually every nice summer day for the past six years.  He knows every bump in the road but just this once, riding around a small bump, he over-corrected, hit the curb and flipped.   He had a nice big 3-inch bruise on the top of his head where the helmet took the brunt of the impact.  The helmet is history.  It did it's job and his head is just fine.

Two days before his accident, a 15-year-old friend was riding with a group of professional bikers when one of the other riders swerved to avoid a pothole, knocking our friend to the ground.  He cracked his helmet and broke his elbow but the elbow will heal and his head is just fine.

Another friend had a close encounter with a squirrel who tried to cross the bike path and trapped himself in John's front spokes.  The squirrel died and John sprained his ankle, but John's helmet took the hit instead of his head.

I am, admittedly, obsessed with helmet use.  Hence my slogan: bikers with brains wear helmets.

When I see teenagers with their helmets on their handlebars, I assume they left home wearing a helmet and removed it as soon as they were out of their parents' sight.  Elsewhere in this blog, I have referred to helmetless bikers with headphones as organ donors and ranted about parents who put helmets on their children but not on themselves. These riders are collectively responsible for every teenager who's too cool to wear a helmet (most of whom wouldn't think of riding in a car without a seatbelt).

I understand the teenagers' behavior but cannot begin to comprehend an adult with a helmet on the handlebars.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Bikers with brains wear helmets.  
Fools who don't have nothing to lose.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Helmet Haiku

if you think it's cool
to ride without a helmet
you're really a fool

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Tale of Two High Schools, Part IV: The Honor Roll

What does it mean to make the honor roll?  Until the most recent reporting period, I thought that honor roll students earned all As and Bs - and that they earned more As than Bs.

In my last TOTHS report, I wrote about accountability. It's important to strike a balance between flexibility and accountability.  Sometimes circumstances dictate that students should have additional time for certain assignments.  However, if there are never any consequences for failing to turn in work by an agreed upon deadline, students will never learn accountability.

I was thrilled to see that my mentee pulled through by the end of the quarter and managed to finish with Cs after flirting with Fs for much of the marking period.  That's great progress.  But it's not an honor roll performance. Frankly, the honor is, "Congratulations.  You're on track to graduate on time."

With all the talk about raising the bar for all students, I am disappointed to learn that the bar isn't higher for the honor roll.  I'll never view those bumper stickers that brag "I have an honor roll student at the high school" the same way again.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Rider's Ruminations

Spring has sprung at last in Chicagoland!

The weather was glorious this weekend and perfect for  a 7-mile run (and walk) on Saturday and the inaugural road ride on Sunday of just under 30 miles.  Finally.

After a disappointing low-snow winter with no chance for cross-country skiing, it was great to exercise outside.

Of course, running and riding outside, I find myself ruminating on the same themes year after year.

Running on the Evanston lakefront I counted 20 responsible riders compared to 19 fools without helmets.  In addition to the 19 fools, I counted two dads as d#*$!n fools: one wore a helmet but carried his son on his handle bars; the other's daughter wore a helmet but he did not.  She will grow up believing  (incorrectly) that helmets are like training wheels and you outgrow the need.  You do not.  Bikers with brains wear helmets.

Riding north on Sheridan Road, the northern half of Winnetka is as decrepit and unwelcoming as ever, leading me to wonder if potholes are part of the village's strategic plan: the risk of flat tires and accidents will limit unwanted traffic in the area.

As we continue north and into Highland Park, we cruise past several lakefront mansions that (it seems) have been on the market for several seasons.  I can't help but wish that the City of Highland Park would buy the property and remove the homes, restoring the lakefront as a public asset. Evanston and Chicago got it right, with the majority of the lakefront, forever open, clear and free.

Downtown Highland Park is a treat - and is as welcoming to bikers as Winnetka is not.  It's always a pleasure to pull up to Perfect Blend, hop off the bike, refill the water bottle and chat with fellow cyclists, all of whom, not surprisingly, wear helmets.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Advice to the new college graduate (or anyone looking for a job)

Congratulations on your upcoming graduation!  Unfortunately, sending  a resume to an HR department is like dropping it into a big black hole.  BUT, if you research an organization, find out where the opportunities are and where you think your skills and experience might fit, then leveraging your networks can be really valuable.  I am certain that if you applied for a position in my department and then someone you knew contacted one of my colleagues, my colleague would shoot me an email saying, "Kristin, take a look at this person...I know her from..."  It doesn't guarantee you'll get the job, but it does mean your cover letter and resume go to the top of the pile and get careful consideration.  If you're just generally interested in an organization but don't know where to start, use your networks (and your parents' and friends' networks) to ask for informational interviews.  

I'm in the process of hiring for two positions right now and my experience as a hiring manager may help you in your job search.  I have first-round interviews with several candidates next week.  Two of them were personal referrals; one was referred directly by someone who used to work with me and the other used her network: someone she knows talked to someone they know at my organization. That person looked at her resume and cover letter and forwarded it to me, saying she looked like a good fit. Even though I had already finished reviewing applicants and starting scheduling interviews, I took the time to read it because of the referral - and decided to interview her.

For every resume I reviewed, I was looking for strong international experience and proficiency in at least one language other than English.  Since both positions require social media expertise, if I liked the resume I looked the candidate up on LinkedIn to see if the profile was up-to-date and there were a reasonable number of connections.  Next, I "googled" the candidate to see if there was a blog or if they used other platforms like Pinterest or Facebook. (Of course, the strongest candidates for these positions provided me with their blogs or twitter handles, because they are applying for a role using social media.)  Needless to say, the candidate with the inappropriate photos that came up at the top of the Google search results did not get an interview.  

In the past year I have hired three new employees in their mid-20s. They all wrote cover letters that didn't just restate what was in the resume, but told me why the experience in the resume was relevant to the job for which they were applying.  AND, they all wrote thank-you notes after both first and second round interviews. For one of them, that was the deciding factor between two equally qualified candidates. One candidate impressed me with a question about my background that she would only have known if she'd done her homework on me - and found the relevant info on my LinkedIn profile. She got the job.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Tale of Two High Schools, Part III: Accountability and Eligibility

How do you teach accountability?

For Aaron, it's directly related to eligibility.  Eligibility to play sports, that is.  And the bar for eligibility is set really, really low.  So low, that it really frightens me when, mid-season, I see how many kids are sitting on the bench, not playing for their team because they're on academic probation.  A typical courseload is six or seven classes but you only have to be passing five classes to be eligible to play.  In other words, an F is okay - as long as you only have one and can maintain a 2.0 average.  With the current system, an athlete with six classes can be eligible for sports with 'D's in core academic classes:  English, History, Math and Science, as long a he gets an 'A' in PE and a 'B' or 'C' in electives. An athlete who isn't in uniform isn't just struggling with a difficult subject; academically he's only barely hanging on. 

I'm struggling to understand where you draw the line between "support" and "enabling".  I'm sure it's different for every student that needs extra help.  However, one of the things I've learned about the high school's support system is that due dates aren't really due dates in classes designated "with support".

In "regular", "honors" or "mixed honors" classes, a due date is a due date.  If an assignment is due on Wednesday, March 13th, the student will only get full credit if the assignment is turned in on or before Wednesday, March 13th.  A teacher may accept late work, but in most cases will only give partial credit. Of course, teachers will typically make an exception for a student that usually manages her workload but asks for an extension before the due date. In a class "with support" however, the deadline is merely a suggestion.  As long as the student turns the work in by the end of the quarter, the work will be accepted. 

Last year, I thought that was good for Aaron because without rolling deadlines, he'd be in danger of failing core classes.  This year I'm not so sure. Never having suffered consequences for late work, he has no sense of urgency or responsibility to get his work done on time.  The one thing he does monitor though, is his eligibility for sports. When he risks becoming ineligible for sports, he can suddenly focus and produce quality work. Why? Because right or wrong, at this stage of his life, sports are far more important to him than English or Math.

English and Math are merely the means to an end and the end is the game.  So, what if we raised the bar?  What if even one 'F' was simply unacceptable?  With one 'D', a student could remain eligible as long as he provided proof that he was showing up for extra support. But two or more grades below a 'C' would render him ineligible, even if the 'A' in PE gave a boost to the overall GPA.

In high school, eligibility for high sports can be a primary motivator but what happens after high school?  Most student athletes are not going to play professionally - and if they can't get into (or stay in) college, they're not even going to play competitively beyond their senior year in high school. Raising the bar on eligibility can teach them greater accountability.  The sooner the better.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Tale of Two High Schools, Part II

On Chicago's north shore, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, you often hear that just like in Lake Wobegon, all the children are above average.  Of course the truth is that it's the standard of living that is well above average for many, but not all, who live here.  The average child living in Chicago's wealthiest suburbs has above average opportunities and experiences.

The educational opportunities for the average child with an above average standard of living are phenomenal here. Of course, there are plenty who lament that the schools don't do enough for their above average or gifted children.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who, for a variety of reasons, achieve at levels that are below average. For the past seven years, through my relationship with our neighbor Aaron and his mother, I have become increasingly aware of how difficult it is to navigate our system of "supports" for children with special needs.

Can Aaron read?  Yes. He plays video games and texts his friends, both activities that require reading and decoding. Moreover, texting and playing games are activities that he finds compelling. Can he analyze a text and write about it?  Maybe. Maybe not. 

What do we do about it?  We're still trying to figure it out - but so far the approach seems to be to schedule a lot of minutes in the day for "support" which in turn limit the available time to pursue the subjects that really interest him.  He's getting an A in Engineering but struggling in English.  Meanwhile, he's in a Learning Strategies class with five other students that is supposed to help him stay on track with homework and time management. Despite the "support", he fell weeks behind with math homework. Proposed solution: drop the Engineering class that he really likes and where he succeeds to pick up another "support" period.

While support can be valuable, I'm not sure Aaron sees it that way.  In fact, he seems to resent the time he's expected to spend in "support".  For example, as a freshman, he was assigned to "Speech".  He didn't understand why he needed "Speech" and developed no rapport with the teacher. Generally regarded as a mild-mannered guy, he had a bad attitude about Speech and was rude to the teacher who then gave him a detention. I knew about the incident and addressed it with him. Imagine my surprise, though, when I learned that he spent all day in in-school detention.  A student who has been identified as needing extra support gets in trouble for rudeness and spends an entire school day out of the classroom in detention!

Later I met with the teacher and a counselor and raised the question, "Why does Aaron need Speech? He doesn't appear to have any problems with speech." They explained that "Speech" is short for "Speech and Language Development" and that he was supposed to be working on expanding his vocabulary.  No one had ever explained that to Aaron or his mother.  I speak 4+ languages and have several degrees, and I didn't understand why he was in speech.  I'm not surprised that he didn't know why he was there and resented it.

So, while I think that extra support can be incredibly valuable, my experience so far leaves me unimpressed with how it is implemented for our neediest students.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Tale of Two High Schools, Part I

It's a cold wet Sunday in January - trying to snow, but covering the streets and sidewalks with sheets of ice instead.  We're invited to our neighbors' for brunch so they can ask my boys about advanced science classes and get the opinions of their slightly older peers. Before we go, though, I follow up with  the guidance counselor of another neighbor.  I've been mentoring Aaron (not his real name) for several years and Aaron isn't deciding between the Chem Phys track and Chem honors.  We're hoping he'll pass geometry so he doesn't have to repeat it next summer.

As underprivileged teens go, Aaron's got it pretty good.  His mother has a steady job, often earning a bonus as employee of the month. She's didn't graduate from high school herself but is determined to do what she can to make sure her son does.  She's enlisted the support of my family and another and calls on us to help her navigate the system. And what a system it is.

Last year Evanston Township High School eliminated a separate honors track for the highest achieving freshmen and required all freshman to take the same humanities class, with an opportunity for all students to earn honors credit.  That is, all students achieving at or above the 40th percentile.  The students who struggle the most with reading and writing were in a separate track "with support".  While upper middle class parents wrung their hands over whether or not their children would be sufficiently challenged in a mixed honors class, I discovered the other ETHS.

Aaron's entire schedule was built around "support" and yet it didn't take me long to learn how weak those supports really are.  In October I attended parent teacher conferences and spoke with his teachers, each of whom clearly knew Aaron and cared about his progress.  The problem is, there's no coordination between the teachers of different subjects.  Although they knew how he was doing in their own classroom, the reading teacher who was considering recommending he pass out of reading didn't know that he was failing English - because he wasn't reading.

I was learning that a parent or guardian has to ask the right questions to get the information that the teachers hesitate to volunteer:  Can Aaron read?