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Growing Up Online April 15

Just how radically is the internet transforming childhood? Are our children growing up online? Explore the impact of the internet on your family at an event sponsored by the Scarsdale PT Council on Thursday morning April 15 at 9:15 am in the Little Theatre at Scarsdale High School. Two speakers have been invited to address the community and share their views on maximizing the benefits and mitigating the risks of your children’s use of the internet.

Rachel Dretzin, the award-winning PBS producer of Growing Up Online and Digital Nation will discuss what she learned when exploring the children and the internet for her two documentaries. In Growing Up Online, she interviewed and filmed experts and children to find out what kids do online, who they communicate with, what they discuss and the implications of the virtual world on the real world.

When asked what she learned from the process of creating Growing Up Online, she replied:

To my great surprise, I've found myself being more liberal about the time my own children spend on the Internet than I was before I started reporting this program. They're living in a wired world. There's no putting the genie back in the bottle, and their lives will only benefit from learning how to use this extraordinary technology wisely and well. But I do think that when my children reach adolescence (my oldest is almost 10) I'll be much more vigilant as a result of what I've learned working on this program.

There is an age -- and I'm sure it's different for every kid -- when children are simply not emotionally mature enough to handle the social Internet without adult guidance. While teenagers need privacy, I want to be sure my own kids are ready for privacy online before handing it to them. The risks of them losing their way are just too great.

Dretzin is an award-winning filmmaker who has been producing documentaries for Frontline since the mid-1990s, with a focus on films that critically explore contemporary American life and culture. Her latest project, Digital Nation which was broadcast on Frontline in February, is a year-long, multiplatform initiative investigating how new technologies impact the way we live. Digital Nation, which is a follow-up to Dretzin's Emmy-nominated film Growing Up Online, makes use of user-generated content and an ongoing, transparent reporting process in a unique collaboration with the online audience.

Dretzin and her husband, filmmaker Barak Goodman, are joint partners in Ark Media, a documentary production company based in Brooklyn, New York. Dretzin has a degree in history from Yale University and lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with Goodman and their three children, ages 12, 9 and 7.

Also on hand, will be Jerry Crisci, who heads up Information Technology for the Scarsdale School district. Jerry Crisci will discuss concrete ways to guide your children’s use of social networking and the internet to minimize distractions and dangers. Crisci is intimately aware of the educational needs and values of the Scarsdale community and is well positioned to offer parents practical advice.

Join the PT Council for what promises to be an enlightening event:

Date: April 15, 2010
Time: 9:15 – 11:00 am
Where: Scarsdale High School Little Theatre

School Budget Woes

A $647,000 decrease in the assessed values of village properties will have an impact on the school budget for 2010-2011. The Village of Scarsdale received an unprecedented number of tax appeals from property owners last year; 500 grievances in all, which according to Village Manager Al Gatta, was double the number from the prior year. This decrease in anticipated tax revenues will cause a loss of $400,000 to the projected school budget and necessitate a raise in the tax increase to cover the school budget.

The School Board had previously announced an estimated 2.93% increase in school taxes for Scarsdale residents and this new development will mean that the Board would have to add on an additional .36% increase to fund the budget, bringing the total to 3.29%. Therefore according to School Board President Barbara Kemp, the Board will now look at three options:

1) Further cuts to the budget
2) Increased use of reserve funds
3) A school tax increase of over 3%

The decrease in the tax base was disappointing news for the Board, the administration and the community as everyone had worked hard to formulate a budget that would maintain programs and small class sizes without unduly increasing taxes. Concessions from the Scarsdale Teacher’s Association had allowed the administration and the Board to keep increases below 3%, a level that the community seemed to deem palatable.

With this new twist, the administration and the Board will be forced to revisit some difficult decisions.

Kemp also announced that the Board would form an Exploratory Revenue Committee to investigate alternative sources of revenue for Scarsdale Schools. The committee will be staffed with representatives from the School Board, parents of Scarsdale students and members of the community at large. The Scarsdale League of Women Voters undertook a study of School Foundations and Kemp hopes to have that study to consider as well.

In other news, the Board met with parents of High School students before the start of the March 17th meeting. Parents expressed concern about a decrease in the size of the high school faculty, as five positions have been left unfilled. Kemp let parents know that until students sign up for classes for next term, it will be difficult to assess the impact of these staff vacancies.

The administration has recommended changing kindergarten to a full-time program, and eliminating the callback schedule. The Board supports this move and at the meeting the issue was hotly debated. The move to a full day program would save the district $50,000 in fees for busing and give every child a full afternoon at school. In support of this change, Superintendant Michael McGill said that the longer day would relieve a packed schedule, give children time to play and socialize and get the kindergarten classes and teachers in sync with the rest of the school. With more hours of school time, McGill did feel that teachers could still structure small group learning sessions with students, especially when their classmates were at specials. Additional federal funds would be available to pay for more aid time in the classes as well.

Parents came out to voice their opinions for and against. Skeptical parents questioned the move, as there were no study results to compare the two programs. Some felt that callback days were valuable as it afforded teachers the opportunity to give individual attention to students. Others wanted their children out of school early during the week for free play and were concerned about the transition from nursery school to a full-day program. The administration will be meeting with kindergarten teachers this week and will hold small community meetings to continue the discussions with parents about the new format.

The community is invited to another School Budget Study Session on Thursday April 8 at 8 pm.

Awaken the Love of Music

Jackie Freimor’s enthusiasm for the Music Together program is infectious. She caught the bug almost seven years ago while attending a class with her infant daughter on her day off from her job as a medical editor. She enjoyed the class so much that she decided to train to teach one day per week.

She learned about the Music Together curriculum that is a research-based early childhood music and movement program for children from birth through age five. Children, with a parent or caregiver, attend the classes that include songs, rhythmic rhymes, movement and instrumental play that develop children’s natural enthusiasm for music. According to Freimor most people have an aptitude for music and Over the Moon Music and More on Garth Road, where she uses the Music Together curriculum, helps children to awaken their own innate skills. There are no standards or performance expectations, which often inhibit children and discourage their love of music. During the class, children use props, instruments and even scarves to visually experience and feel the music and its rhythms.

Freimor is a musician in her own right and has performed as a singer and guitarist since she was a child. Most recently she played the rhythm guitar and sang back-up vocals for a Manhattan-based alternative rock band. She now operates Over the Moon Music and More in Scarsdale as well as in Briarcliff, Chappaqua, Dobbs Ferry, Mount Kisco, Tarrytown and Tuckahoe. She and her staff teach classes that are developmentally appropriate for children ages 0-5, which allows kids to attend with their older or younger siblings.

If you are curious, you are welcome to attend a free demo class with your child. You can find the schedule on the Over the Moon Music and More website. Also watch the online video of a sample class to see if it looks right for you. It sure looks fun to me!

Over the Moon Music and More is located at 78 Garth Road in Scarsdale. They are currently accepting registrations for their spring classes. Learn more at their website or by calling 914-722-2025.

Junior Olympics, Testing Days and More

High School correspondant Melissa Tucker gives her views on issues affecting Scarsdale High School students:

Junior Olympics:
At a house meeting last week, the ongoing Junior Olympics battle has been settled. For now. The plan is to have heavy police patrol the night before Junior Olympics, and if something goes wrong, Mr. Klemme will call the whole thing off. All juniors will be breathalyzed when they arrive at school, and students will not be permitted on school grounds before 7:30 A.M.

Frankly, I think students will find a way to misbehave no matter what preventative measures are taken. From the opinion of a sophomore who can’t wait to reunite with her elementary school friends for a day, the juniors should remember they aren’t just representing their grade, but could seriously jeopardize the event for everyone in years to come. If they misbehave, they will not only get Junior Olympics cancelled for themselves, but for all future grades. Is that really the legacy the class of 2011 wants to leave behind?

Testing days, which were under review, will still be in place for the third quarter. Approximately 300 students completed an online survey about the testing day system, and most students want to keep the system because they fear that without it, several tests could be scheduled on the same day. Personally I was furious when I heard the decision, because we already have the mercy rule here at Scarsdale, where students can only have two assessments, including tests, papers or project due on the same day. Most students don’t know about this rule, and some of those kids are afraid to tell their teachers that they have to move a test date. While that’s a legitimate fear, a rule is a rule, and if kids are so afraid to speak to their teachers they can go to their deans. In my opinion, we should at least try one quarter without testing days and see what happens. We can always reinstitute the system. If we keep the system, I think the rules need to be more clear, and all students need to be aware of these rules.

Disaster Week
: SHS students celebrated for three days when they got phone calls from Linda Purvis, announcing the cancellation of school for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The SHS community erupted instantaneously as those with and without power relaxed, knowing that we’d have a one and a half day week.

We milked our “snow days” to the last drop, using up every snow day before we had to add days back on. Although students rejoiced, we are now paying the price with schedule changes in most classes. The pressure is on next week as tests scheduled for this week were pushed back to next week, stacking the assessments before Spring Break. Most students find themselves with a major assessment in almost every class next week. Some students bargained with teachers to have tests delayed, claiming that the lack of power made it impossible to study. We all enjoyed our free days, but that call on Wednesday from Linda Purvis confirming the opening of school son Thursday sent us back to reality, with the sinking realization that it was time to crack open the books yet again.

Chinese New Year at Greenacres

Students at the Greenacres School celebrated the Chinese New Year with their fourth annual lion parade on February 23, 2010!  As in previous years, the school's main entrances were decorated with long, vertical Chinese scrolls with poems about the coming of spring and blessings for the New Year.  In the lunchroom, several five-foot-long dragon garlands, large red lanterns and colorful firecracker garlands dangled from wire strung across the floor-to-ceiling columns.  Red, yellow and purple Chinese New Year banners were hung over each doorway to wish that all would “come and go in peace”.

To celebrate the year of the tiger (虎; pronounced “hu”) and Lunar Year 4708, Ms. Krisanda's kindergarten class led a lion parade around Greenacres School. The students carried a variety of noisy musical instruments: hand drums, cymbals, maracas and a traditional Chinese chau gong; parent Melissa Chepuru provided Chinese drum and gong accompaniment for the parade.  The loud ruckus of the lion parade (usually with firecrackers) is meant to scare away evil spirits and bad luck, thus ensuring a happy, prosperous new year.  Parent Chip Lee operated the lion's head while two students manned its tail.  Some of the students wore traditional Chinese outfits in red and gold—the colors of happiness, abundance and longevity.
Throughout the week, Chinese New Year was celebrated in several classrooms:  parents talked about customs in preparing for the New Year and for the Lantern Festival (last day of the 15-day New Year celebration); showed how modern-day Chinese characters evolved from ancient pictographs; staged a riddle-guessing contest with prizes; taught students how to write Chinese characters and make a New Year greeting card; brought in homemade dumplings, clementines and red envelopes for the students.