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The Wellness Initiative at Scarsdale High School

studentstressNational recognition as a top high school has drawbacks. Lately the Scarsdale High School administration has been gauging the stressful and competitive atmosphere at SHS and taking a methodical approach to address the balancing act performed by busy teenagers in the peak years of self-discovery. Students, teachers, and parents have reasonable concerns about the potential costs of Scarsdale's rigorous academic reputation.

In December, Principal Kenneth Bonamo wrote to students and parents to announce the progress of the recently formed Wellness Initiative. Student, faculty, and parent "wellness teams" were formed at the high school. This fall, a steering committee composed of representatives from each team attended the "Challenge Success" at Stanford University. The momentum of the wellness initiative has taken off during this school year, but the project began much earlier. Last year, students were asked to answer polls on their stress levels and on how the school could do a better job maintaining a demanding and rewarding curriculum while giving busy teenage students much-needed breathing room. But the results of these surveys, and their implications, were not made accessible to the student body. When recent grads were asked whether they knew we had a student committee on stress and wellness, most said they were not aware of the committee's existence. Sarah Weintraub, SHS '16 and Amherst College '20, says she only saw these results because she was in student government, while other students not included in the small group that ran for government positions had to go out of their way to find the results. Last year, parents, not the student body, were invited to the high school auditorium for a presentation on the survey results. While students are forced to sit through many assemblies and music concerts throughout the year and on half days before vacation, the school did not deem this survey important enough to make a school-wide presentation.

The faculty's two goals for this year include homework-free school vacations and "calibration" of homework. Teachers will be asked to give students a portion of their homework in class to better determine the lengths of assignments. "Calibrating" homework during class time, according to Bonamo, will allow students to demonstrate how long they take to do assignment "without distractions or assistance." Looking back, Weintraub thinks Bonamo's plan is a great idea. Collaboration between students and teachers may build trust and foster a more dynamic relationship that relieves stress on both ends.

However, some students struggle to convey the scope of their extracurricular time commitments to teachers. Scottie Berridge, SHS '16 and Columbia University '20, had swim practice before and after school several days a week throughout high school, and by the fall of her senior year, she had a scheduled visit to her dream school, Columbia University, for a recruiting trip. She had to miss two days of school that week to meet with coaches and meet the team before making a huge decision. Berridge recalls one teacher that would not extend the deadline on a paper due that weekend, even for a single day. When she explained that she would be busy with recruiting events while on campus, the teacher responded "They have computers at Columbia, don't they?" Berridge was appalled that her teacher refused to acknowledge the importance of this commitment in her life.

SHS faculty, students, and families must also consider how the wellness initiative in high school will serve the long term goal of producing graduates that are creative, energetic critical thinkers, ready to continue the organic process of their education. Recent SHS grads reflected on the plan to "calibrate" homework and some believe this practice may shortchange students as they prepare for a college course load. The regimented high school schedule breaks up the day into forty-eight minute increments, beginning the day at 8:01am and telling students to eat lunch at precisely 11:46am. One of the biggest differences in high school versus college life is the transfer of authority over time management to the students' hands. A college freshman's attitude and perspective when looking at how to budget their precious free minutes determines their academic performance, their success in extra-curriculars, their social life, and their sleep. Regularly asking high school students to complete work during class periods, within school hours, restricts their ability to practice prioritizing assignments and develop a sense of initiative. Michael Blank, SHS '16 and Georgetown '20, noted the potential danger of the "calibration" practice becoming "normal" because the purpose of class time would be shifted to homework type tasks and not creative learning and provocative discussion.

The plan to "calibrate" homework would, according to faculty, allow students to work "without distractions or collaboration." Today's teenagers are exposed to more distractions than any other generation, and a Scarsdale education must teach students how to learn efficiently on their own if the district is to be successful preparing its graduates to work at the nation's elite institutions. Instead of shielding students from the distractions of Facebook and Netflix by completing work inside school walls, teachers must encourage students to develop the valuable skill of learning to focus when surrounded by distractions, mimicking the often chaotic college environment. Furthermore, classroom oversight may thwart collaboration. Recent SHS grads were asked about group work in high school versus college, and most said they were surprised to find collaboration is expected and encouraged at college. Many problem sets in college classes require the names of every student that worked together on the questions. At SHS, students are often scolded for working with others on homework. Often in bold letters on the syllabus, high school teachers warn students against "unlawful" collaboration, but do not draw a clear distinction between dishonorable cheating and healthy group work, definitions that SHS must help students establish before sending them off into the real world, where nearly every job will be completed in teams.

Bonamo's email said the survey data indicated that students' average homework load was 3.5 hours per night. When shown this statistic, most recent grads agreed that it sounded accurate. However, this singular piece of data used in the wellness update to parents does not account for variation among A.T. and regular level students. Furthermore, 3.5 hours means something very different for a student with an afternoon packed with activities and responsibilities. Berridge said she spent about four to five hours per night on homework, then did some studying. With a school day ending at 3pm, 3.5 hours of homework does not leave much time for students to pursue extra-curriculars, or, perhaps more importantly, sleep, to prepare for the next day beginning at 8am.

Ultimately, the wellness initiative suggests that the SHS community has taken a pause to refocus and reaffirm that our practices serve a healthy goal. It is refreshing to see such a demanding high school making an effort to acknowledge the students hard work outside the classroom, where just as much learning is happening. The student who may not be earning As and attracting the praise of teachers and classmates, has a chance to find what makes them feel happy and valued elsewhere, in sports, music, drama. Making systematic adjustments to reduce stress facilitates a more inclusive academic community where each student can feel confident in his or her contributions. The college process demands both high academic performance and scores of extra-curriculars, but expects students to arrive on campus, enthusiastic and ready to learn. Scarsdale's wellness initiative, if taken seriously and attacked with vigor, will encourage students to try new things, to try out for the JV team of a sport they have never played before, to attend club events and to cheer on sports teams, all creating a healthy, vibrant community conducive to learning at the highest level.

Carly Glickenhaus, SHS '16, is a freshman Biology major and Division I Varsity rower at Georgetown University.

Scarsdale Resident Launches Nanny Tax Solutions for Household Employers

Momcopy3When attorney and CPA Chandra Nottage moved to Scarsdale four years ago, she needed someone to care for her daughter while she went to work. Even though most of the working parents she met in the area hire nannies, leaving her infant daughter with a stranger all day without supervision was a scary thought and not something she was willing to do. There were not many institutional childcare options available for children under 18 months and she found that for most working parents a nanny was the only viable option. Chandra did, however, find a childcare center in walking distance from her home. But, when her daughter needed surgery on her feet, they lost the space when she couldn't be enrolled when it became available. A part-time space was later offered, but the remaining days needed to be supplemented with a nanny. Suddenly, she and her husband found themselves to be household employers.

Chandra quickly realized that Scarsdale is rife with household employers but there were no payroll services for this type of employment. So when she left her position at a Big Four" accounting firm after seven years, she decided to start Nanny Tax Solutions offering payroll services to both household employers and small businesses with an average of 10 employees.

Household employers include individuals who employ nannies, gardeners, housekeepers, home health aides, babysitters or drivers, to name a few.

Employing a nanny who is paid more than $2,000 for the 2016 tax year immediately makes a family a household employer responsible for complying with payroll tax requirements. Some household employers may file their own taxes at the end of the year and may not have an accountant. Other household employers or small businesses that already have an accountant may not have one that will help with the weekly payroll. These employers often do not have the same resources as larger employers, and processing payroll in-house can be burdensome. Hiring outside help is necessary for small employers, but Nanny Tax Solutions recognizes that they also need to keep costs low. Therefore, employers can customize their payroll services and can choose how much they want to remain involved. Clients can use Nanny Tax Solutions to issue wage payments to employees every payroll period, to file quarterly and annual payroll tax filings, and to help with the numerous other compliance matters. Employers can choose to use Nanny Tax Solutions for some or all of these services.

Nanny Tax Solutions is located in Hawthorne, New York, LogoforWeb72croppedbut services employers nationwide. Meeting the needs of clients is the company's number one priority; and although there are standard office hours, appointments can be made outside of those hours when necessary to accommodate an employer's schedule. Call Chandra Nottage at Nanny Tax Solutions at (914) 214-5762 or send an email to: contact@nannytaxsolutions.com to get started today.

STEAM Day Makes Math and Science Fun for 700 Participants

DSC00333The Scarsdale Middle School was awhirl in activity on STEAM Day on Saturday November 19 when the PT Council in collaboration with the school PTA's, teachers, district administrators and the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation produced an ambitious day of STEAM activities and workshops for kids of all ages.

The program was expanded this year to include workshops for 4th through 8th graders, as well as engaging activities for the younger set, and whole families spent an entertaining day learning about robotics, genetics, circuits, 3D printing, coding and building a giant contraption to create a chain reaction. Kids were on the floor building and even de-constructing complex machines. Over 700 kids and parents attended.

The Discovery Room in Gyms A and B and the Makerspace in Gyms C and D offered opportunities for all students, while older students attended a series of workshops that turned science and math into fun. Fox Meadow Principal Duncan Wilson presented his own version of "Escape the Room," challenging students to use logic and math to piece together clues to open locks and solve a crime. Other workshops involved building a model of a skyscraper, building a model airplane that actually flies and creating color-changing chemical reactions. There was more on coding, probability and even relative time travel.steam1

In the Great Hall at the upper entrance to the school, Nerdy Derby constructed a fifty foot race track, where kids raced cars they built by themselves. RFID chips were attached to each car so that the owner knew when it crossed the finish line. This activity was funded by a grant from the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation.

The day concluded with Jeff Boyer's Bubble Trouble show which combined creative and crazy bubble feats with a lesson in the science behind bubbles. The SMS auditorium was filled with kids, parents and teachers.

Everywhere you looked, kids were engaged and excited, demonstrating how making and doing creates memorable educational experiences.

Commenting on the day, Event Co-Chairs Kathleen Campbell and Seema Jaggi said, "The attendance exceeded our expectations. The feedback has been very positive, and we were so pleased that the community responded to the opportunity to attend the event as a family. We were fortunate to have an excellent and dedicated corps of parent volunteers on the planning committee, working together with the support of faculty, administration and staff on every level. We also had the very generous financial support of the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation and many donations-in-kind from workshop leaders and presenters, enabling the PT Council STEAM Committee to bring quality programming and activities to the event."

DSC00313They thanked everyone, saying, "We had an amazing committee of women working on this. We cannot say enough about the dedication of these women to bringing a quality program to the entire community. I think that is something that people don't necessarily appreciate - that this event was staffed, planned, and executed almost entirely by volunteers. The District was also very generous in its permissive use of the Middle School, its Technology Team and the outstanding and professional help of the SMS custodians led by Rob Schweit. Those SMS custodians are absolutely THE BEST!! They make it happen with a smile."

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Panelists Shine the Light on a Taboo Subject

audrieDaisyMore than 100 community members gathered on Thursday night November 30 to discuss a sensitive issue that most shy away from confronting: sexual assault. The evening featured a panel discussion and viewing of excerpts from the film "Audrie and Daisie" and was co-sponsored by the Scarsdale High School PTA, Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services, and the Scarsdale Coalition on Family Violence. The discussion was moderated by New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. On the panel were Kristen Bowes, General Counsel and Title IX Coordinator at Mercy College; Jennifer Snow, Board Chair of Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER); and Katie Cappiello, founder of The Arts Effect NYC and author of "SLUT: A Play and Guidebook for Combating Sexism and Sexual Violence."

The film follows several high-school girls who have been sexually assaulted, specifically Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman. While the girls suffered the backlash of their assaults, Pott even took her own life, their perpetrators received little punishment. The documentary was not shown in its entirety, rather, various clips were shown followed by questions from the audience and discussion from the panel. If you are interested in seeing the film, "Audrie and Daisy" is available on Netflix.

Themes discussed by the panel included: the impact of social media and bystanders, what does consent mean, education on sexual assault for high school and college students, education starting as early as Kindergarten, the impact of drugs and alcohol on sexual assault, how colleges handle sexual assault, and sexual assaults in which men are the victims.

Each panelist's passion for the issue shone through. Paulin has a personal attachment to the issue and she described the importance of being honest about your experiences: "I never told anyone until I told the entire New York State Assembly when I wanted them to pass a bill."

Panelist Kristen Bowes responded to a question asking how society treats men who come out about their stories as victims of sexual assault: "We try as best as we can on our campus to make it clear that discrimination against men is absolutely prohibited, and we try to be as open and inclusive as possible, but it is still a challenge. I even find myself when I do training to talk about the victim as 'she, she, she' and I have to catch myself all the time, so I know that we have to do the work but I know that we have our resources lined up if men come forward on our campus." The other panelists added that sexual assault against men is less common and prevalent, therefore it is harder for them to be open about their stories, but there are things being done to improve that.

Panelist Jennifer Snow explained several tips for college freshmen and prospective college students. Snow advised, "A good thing to ask on your college tour is 'what do you do about sexual assault on your campus?' New York and California are at the very top of this whole movement to try and combat sexual assault on college campuses. In other states you could have absolutely nothing, they could literally never say the words sexual assault in freshman orientation. In fact, I would say that's more of the norm than the exception."

Panelist Katie Cappiello explained: "How amazing would it be if conversations about consent, and about respect, and about engaging with one another in terms of all of these things started, and I know that this sounds scary, but there's a way that we can do it where we don't have to talk about it this in depth, but in Kindergarten. Like 'Hey, can I give you a hug? No? Okay!' You know that cute story that everyone has about the guy who chases the girl around the playground in Kindergarten and then pins her behind a tree and kisses her and it's so cute? It's not. And the little girl's crying isn't that funny? No, it's horrible." The importance of educating children about sexual assault early, was emphasized throughout the event.

The audience consisted largely of parents and students. Specifically, peer leaders and civ-ed advisors at SHS were encouraged to attend. However, some students, like Mollie Kerr 17', attended because of their passion for this issue. Kerr expressed, "I think that it's upsetting that we would have an assembly about drunk driving, underage drinking, or speeding while driving, that's mandatory, while sexual assault is a lot more common and prevalent and we haven't had an assembly on it." Kerr is working with Vice Principal Griffin and Youth Outreach Worker Lauren Pomerantz to educate every grade, specifically freshmen and seniors, in their own individual ways on consent and sexual assault.

If high school students want to learn more, have concerns, or wish to report an incident of sexual assault, the youth outreach workers and psychologists are a good place to start, and are always there. Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Services is also available to parents and other members of the community, for help.

Scarsdale Schools: Student Testing, Water Safety and New Health Policies

liceThough dominated by construction and finance issues, the November 14 Scarsdale School Board meeting also included important information about student test results plus a report on water safety and new policies on head lice and concussions.

Student Testing

Superintendent Thomas Hagerman turned the meeting back to "our core mission of teaching and learning" by introducing the "Student Assessment in Scarsdale Schools" report from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lynn Shain. In Ms. Shain's clear and thoughtful report (available for reading in full on the District website), she first placed Assessment in context as "one of the three, integral facets of the teaching and learning cycle along with curriculum and instruction," playing an essential role in allowing teachers to pinpoint students' needs, improve their instruction, and even adjust the curriculum to ensure the best learning outcomes.

ELANext, Ms. Shain addressed a point of annual concern to parents: standardized testing. She emphasized that standardized testing is only one small piece of the broader, continuous assessment that occurs throughout the school year. It is the view of the district that "the best assessment of a student's achievement is still classroom performance as judged by a teacher who sees the student's work in a variety of situations over the course of a school year." As a "snapshot in time," standardized testing provides limited information which is less useful in terms of gauging individual students, although it can be of use for viewing District achievement over time.

Digging deeper into a topic raised earliermath this fall with the release of the 2015-2016 State Test results, Ms. Shain flagged a concern with those results. She explained that standardized tests fall into one of two categories: Norm-referenced Tests (e.g., SATs), and Criterion-referenced Tests (e.g. NYS Regents exams). The first type provides a score that compares a student's performance to that of students in a sample of peers. The second compares a student's performance to specific standards regardless of other examinees' scores. Parents should be aware that the current state tests "create a hybrid of these types causing major concerns about the accuracy and value of this data." In essence, they treat a Criterion test as if it were a Norm-Referenced test - a "mixed metaphor" - which is why this year's test results were issued with a letter from Ms. Shain urging parents not to place too much emphasis on the "ranking" shown on the results page. She noted that, fortunately, "most of our community understands the shortcomings of standardized tests."

SATScoresNonetheless, standardized test results and other data do bring good news for Scarsdale students and the families who are investing in their educations here.

Despite the shortcomings of the NY State Tests, and the "dips" in scores that occurred statewide as the tests were adjusted and the bar raised in both 2009 and 2012, the charts above show Scarsdale 3rd-8th grade students performing consistently ahead of students in comparable districts, the lower Hudson region, and the state overall.

The news is equally good looking at high school level results. One example among many are Scarsdale's SAT scores, which have been the highest among comparable districts in the region for the last four years.

AP TestsAnd despite Scarsdale's move to an AT rather than AP curriculum, Scarsdale students perform exceptionally well on AP tests. In fact, 98% of Scarsdale students received scores of 3,4,5 for the 2015-16 school year.

Looking ahead to students' senior year and beyond, Ms. Shain points out that Scarsdale's College Data continues to be excellent, with 63% of graduates accepted to the most selective colleges. She says, "Many selective private institutions tell us they are nowhere close.... You cannot have such outcomes without a strong K-12 system."

Water Safetyhandwash only

District water is not testing as well as district students. Lead levels in 19% of 368 district school sinks are higher than acceptable. Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey outlined results of water testing that was communicated via email to distract families last week. Continuing the work of last spring which saw the testing of all water fountains, Scarsdale Schools has completed a second round of testing which targeted 368 sinks and other water outlets. Of that number, 69 (19%) came in above the recommended threshold.

According to the CDC, "Lead found in tap water usually comes from the corrosion of older fixtures or from the solder that connects pipes. When water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply."

Filters will be put in place, and in the meantime signs at each affected outlet warn "Handwashing Only."

Mr. Mattey reported that the total cost of filters and maintenance going forward will add about $32,000 annually to the budget. But in Dr. Hagerman's words, "The dollars are minimal compared to the other impact; we're committed to getting this taken care of as quickly as possible."

Head Lice

Eric Rauschenbach, Director of Special Education and Student Services, updated the Board on the latest policy updates, beginning with the issue with the "ick factor: lice! Fortunately, although there are always occasional incidents, the district has had no major outbreaks for some time. Still they are a nuisance, so the latest policy identifies three goals in dealing with this issue: 1) decrease absenteeism, 2) support families in their efforts to control and eliminate lice, and 3) maintain student privacy.

The main adjustment in the policy comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics which rejects the exclusion of students infested with lice from school. Mr. Rauschenbach explained that requiring a child to leave class is stigmatizing, and incidence of lice transference is fairly low in a classroom setting. Furthermore, it qualifies as a child civil right to have access to education when there is no public health risk.

Therefore, although a student's parents will be notified of any finding of lice, and may be required to begin treatment before returning the student to school, there will generally be no need to remove the student immediately. School nurses will offer guidance, information and resources to support parents in managing the situation.

The AAP also discourages the practice of widespread lice screenings, preferring parental observation instead. However, as there is support in the community for PTA-sponsored checks, this practice will be allowed to continue subject to regulations ensuring confidentiality, parent notification, and the opportunity for parent opt-out.


The more serious issue of Concussion Management has also been under review and updated to reflect current best practices. This involved adding an additional day of recovery tfootballhelmeto the Return to Play protocol, and clarifying that the District Physician is the only authority who can clear students to return to physical activity. Additionally, there will be a higher level of caution exercised in the case of multiple concussion, which is in line with the latest research.

School Board Member Nina asked, "What is the administration doing to educate our parents and students that this is the procedure we will all follow without exception?" Mr. Rauschenbach replied that all coaches and teams go through the policy before each season and it is part of the health curriculum as well. In addition, every athlete must have a baseline neurologic function test done at the beginning of the season for use as a comparison after any possible concussion.

Watch the meeting online here.

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