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kindergartenAs spring turns into summer and the school year winds down, it's hard not to anticipate where your child will be next fall. When your child is beginning Kindergarten, the transition can be a big one for both parents and kids, as families leave behind the gentle classrooms of pre-school, and head to new, bigger buildings filled with older kids and eventually, real academic demands. Here are some tips to help ease the transition for you and your child:

Read books together about starting school.
Spend an afternoon at the new Barnes & Noble café or the public library and look for books such as Kindergarten Rocks! By Katie Davis, First Day Jitters, by Julie Dannenberg, The Night Before Kindergarten, by Natasha Wing, and many many others. Make this time about connecting and providing a space to talk with your child, not an academic activity.

Visit your child's new school if possible.
Many children wind up going into their new school during a Kindergarten screening, and some are familiar with the building because an older sibling attends. Often also, the teachers open their classrooms up for a few hours the week before school starts for kids to come in. (You can call the school to ask if this is something they do.)

Take your child to play in the playground of the school over the summer. (This may have an added bonus of meeting kids in the neighborhood who are also starting Kindergarten there in the fall.)

Try to arrange play dates with other children you know will be attending that school. Many children will express that they are worried about missing their nursery school friends, or that they don't know anyone in their new school.

If your town does a summer "rec camp," consider signing your child up, at least for a few weeks. Often they will place children in groups together based on the elementary school they are zoned for, and these programs are usually on the less expensive end of summer day camps.

Validate their feelings. They are most likely feeling a combination of nerves and excitement which is perfectly normal. You don't have to "fix" it by telling them they will be fine, or that they will love it. You can tell them it's normal to feel nervous about going to kindergarten, and that most kids feel the same way. You can also share with them a story about a time you felt nervous before a big change.

Ask them if they have specific things they are worried about, and if they can name them. Sometimes it could be "who is picking me up and where?," or "how will I know which bus to take?," or "what will I eat for lunch?" You may be able to answer many of these questions concretely which will help alleviate some anxiety.

Expect some acting out and regressive behavior. This transition is a big deal and behavioral changes (that may seem out of character) are common. Your child may not settle down until deep into the fall.

Keep in mind that this is a transition for you as well, and you also may have some worries and concerns. The best way for you to begin to feel comfortable is to get involved to the extent that you can in their classroom and their school. Attend PTA meetings and sign up to work on an event, serve on a committee or become class mom. (They usually have many different options based on parents' available time and interests.) Becoming involved in your child's school will help you meet other parents, as well as get to know the teachers and the administration, which never hurts in terms of being able to best advocate for your child down the road.

Enjoy the summer. Allow less structure and relish relaxed family time as much as possible. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT ACADEMICS. The teachers know what they are doing and they know that kids are coming in at different levels. Enjoy this time with your child. In what will seem like a flash you will be worrying about the transition to Middle School!

Julie Stonberg is a clinical social worker with a private practice in Harstdale. She also serves as a social worker for the Towards Tomorrow pre-school program at the JCC and runs workshops during the year on different parenting topics.

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benpitchThe Raiders baseball team finished their season with an 11-8 record and a celebration of Senior Day. They had an impressive 11-3 run after a 0-5 start. The team will be beginning playoffs Saturday May 20th against New Rochelle High School. 

Jon Thaler took photos of the event, a sample of which are below. If you would like to see the rest of the game images, check them out by clicking here.




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washdc1When we decided to take a trip to Washington, D.C. this past April, the general response from people was that our kids, 7 and 9, were the perfect age for it. "But it's a ton of walking so they'll be complaining about that the entire time," said, well, everyone. So, when planning our DC trip, the constant stressor in my head was how to maximize enjoyment and minimize walking for our crew. I threw the kids' bikes in the car with a couple of bike locks at the last second (why else do I drive a minivan?) and THAT is what ended up being the best decision we made.

Here's the rest of how we "did DC" with a minimal amount of whining, along with some tips from other Scarsdale families that made the trek to the Capitol as well.

We ended up staying at great little Airbnb in the Capitol Hill area. We liked having a street parking permit, unlimited Keurig pods and a laundry machine. My family enjoyed being in a neighborhood with parks and the kids rode their bikes to dinner each night while we walked. Tina Lin, a Fox Meadow mom, has three boys ages 4, 7 and 9. She and her family stayed at the JW Marriott and loved the location on the National Mall as well as the hotel pool. "The kids may have been more interested in the pool than the sights," she quipped. Lynn Marvin, a Greenacres mom, has three kids also 4, 7, and 9. They stayed at the JW Marriott as well and described it as "The perfect location with a great indoor pool and hot tub which we used every day. There was a big courtyard for running around and we walked to the sites and lots of great restaurants. Breakfast included."

Access to a kitchen and kids that need 35 reminders to brush their teeth in the morning meant that we ate cereal for breakfast every day. We packed lunch for ourselves thinking that there wouldn't be many food options right on the mall but we were glad to be proven wrong. "The American Indian museum has a really cool food court with Native American delicacies," said Lynn, "We loved the organic burgers across from the National Zoo entrance as well as a really cool German restaurant called Cafe Mozart that has piano and accordion music at night- our kids loved it!" Kid-friendly restaurants nearby included Fogo de Chao for Tina's carnivores and the popular Founding Farmer for Lynn's dessert lovers.

Out and About
About 25 million people a year visit the 11 Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. You can visit some government buildings like the Capitol, but you need to secure tickets in the morning. The White House tour requires an advanced request through state representatives. There are private museums, fun areas to explore like Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle and Georgetown, and the monuments and memorials are a must for any visitor.

My kids rode their bikes every day to and around the Mall area. They loved the National MuseumWashdc2 of Natural History and so did Tina's kids. Volunteers in the insect area introduced them to Madagascar hissing cockroaches (see photo) and they got to watch the house tarantula capture and eat a cricket. The mummies, the dinosaur bones, and the Hope Diamond were also hits for my bunch. Tina's kids liked the 3-D IMAX show and thought it was a good break from all of the walking. All of our kids loved the Air and Space museum. Tina said, "The 'How Things Fly' exhibit was very interactive and the boys just liked seeing all the planes and spacecraft hanging in the museum."

My family spent three hours one morning at the U.S. Botanical Garden. It's well organized and has fascinating flora as well as detailed field guides for children that send them on a scavenger hunt. Any child between 6-12 should enjoy that. Adults will enjoy the garden as well. My kids loved the sculpture garden along the mall.

Lynn's family checked out the Spy Museum, "Cool but crowded and better suited for an older bunch. My husband loved it." She also stopped by Madame Toussad's Wax Museum, "The kids loved posing with wax presidents, definitely a highlight", the Native American Museum, which had fun hands-on exhibits, Ford's Theatre, which was fascinating for the older two but boring for the 4-year-old, the White House Visitor Center, "Our tour request was denied but the kids still liked the visitor center- they have an exhibit of presidents' pets and favorite foods" and they all enjoyed their own night tour of the monuments. "Seeing the monuments at night at our own pace was cool."

My family loved the National Zoo and we ended up going two days in a row. The first day I went with my daughter while my husband and son walked from our Airbnb to a Washington Nationals baseball game, which they loved. It was empty and we spent three hours feeling like we were on a private zoo tour. We spent so much time with the pandas and in the ape house. The following day it took us over an hour just to park at the zoo because of the number of people. It was horrifically crowded and we had to wait 45 minutes to see the pandas so it was quite a different experience.

Tina's kids loved the huge inflated chickens modeled like the President that protesters had up in the Mall and by the Capitol. "The highlight one day for the kids was when a police dog pounced on an unattended bag in front of us near the White House fence and the police evacuated everyone off the street."

The best way to see the monuments, memorials and tidal basin for my family was having the kids ride their bikes. We started early in the morning with a Lyft ride to the Lincoln Memorial with the bikes. They never got tired of riding, though they tired of walking. When they got to each monument they seemed much happier to be there than the kids around us who were telling their parents how much they hated them for making them walk so much. Our kids loved the FDR, Jefferson, Lincoln and MLK memorials. Martin Luther king is the historical figure my kids are most familiar with so they were very excited to see the monument dedicated to him. They didn't get much out of the Korean and Vietnam memorials and we skipped Arlington Cemetery. We planned for our route to end at the tidal basin pedal boat rentals. The kids enjoyed this a lot and it was nice break from monuments and memorials.

Getting Around

Washdc4Washington D.C. has very wide sidewalks and even though you're technically not allowed to ride bikes on them, no one ever said anything to the kids. We had one near-head-on collision with a German tourist; he wasn't aware of the sidewalk laws and thankfully found my daughter's apology cute. The tidal basin and the Mall are bike friendly. There are plenty of bike racks and it's also acceptable to lock bikes around utility poles and fences. You must walk your bike through the memorials and past the Holocaust Museum but other than that you rarely have to disembark from your seat. My kids can ride without training wheels and stopped at every street corner to wait for us before crossing the street. I don't trust that my 7-year-old would have done that a year ago, so be wary of that for younger children. Training wheels may make it difficult to ride on the National Mall because of the dirt/gravel trails.

Getting around D.C. is generally very easy. The Metro is a little confusing to a New Yorker at first because you pay based on the distance you're traveling, but it's clean and efficient and a fun experience for kids. Ubers and Lyfts came in very handy for all of us. We even threw the bikes in the back once or twice. Sadly, D.C traffic is horrible.

The Hop on Hop off Bus was a waste of time and money according the Lynn. "It was slow and my kids were bored just seeing the sites." She also reiterated that the Spy Museum would be better for older kids and adult James Bond aficionados. Her main piece of advice is "Pace yourselves. My kids definitely got 'museum fatigue' so mixing in things like the zoo and interactive exhibits was a necessity."

My family found the National Museum of American History boring and dark inside. The "highlights" according to the guides were Bert and Ernie and Dorothy's ruby red slippers but we found both to be quite underwhelming.

Tina wouldn't skip anything they did but she did feel a bit rushed by spending only two days in DC. "In retrospect, we should have done the zoo instead of the memorials/monuments tour as the zoo is more age appropriate."

All three of us agreed that you need to be prepared for a lot of walking and that the bribe of gelato/ice cream goes a long way!Washdc3

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hsscheduleWhat seems like a small schedule change may have a deeper impact. At the May 8th Board of Education meeting, student Holly Rittmaster presented a petition started by another student, Lila Horwood, that protested the upcoming changes to the Scarsdale High School Schedule. The petition says the following: "Starting next year, in the 2017-18 school year, our schedules are being extended 75 minutes a week, and we will only have homeroom twice a week. As stressed and concerned members of the Scarsdale High School community, we want to show the Board of Education how many people are vehemently opposed to this change. If you are opposed to any part of the new schedule, please sign this petition!" 

It currently has 566 signatures and has gathered a lot of community buzz and comments, most of which seem to be saying the same thing. Students do not want this schedule change to be implemented. "The new schedule completely contradicts every goal of the wellness committee and is ridiculously confusing. Later dismissal times and earlier start times only make for less sleep and increased stress." Says a current High School Junior, "No students were included in any part of the process for creating the new schedule, or any sort of discussion regarding schedules at all, which is outrageous considering they are the most affected. The school and the Board of Education should return to the drawing board and make sure to include students in some manner."

This year the high school administration is focused on "student wellness", but this new schedule seems to contradict and undermine that message. Some students feel that it does not matter how many surveys students take on stress improvement if nothing is done with the results. A commenter suggests an alternative approach to time requirements which the administration has said are dictated by New York State in this press release. "I believe the additional instructional hours required by state could be met in ways that aren't detrimental to student wellness. Maybe we could have one additional special period per week, where students could choose a seminar or activity to attend in order to enrich the high school experience. Some other high schools employ this system or have study hall/group work time. The most important thing is to take into account the voices of students, not just on paper but in action."

Never has a room been more divided than when the schedule changes were announced to the juniors and seniors. Not divided in opinion, but in reaction. The seniors, who are leaving before the schedule changes, all high-fived and cheered because they were "leaving just in time". The juniors, however, were understandably furious. While the school is constantly asking students what can be done to improve wellness, some feel that this schedule revision misses the wellness mark by a mile. Many students felt their voices were ignored.

In the view of many of the petition signers, Scarsdale high school students aren't "well". They're stressed. This new schedule change only solidifies some students' fears that the measures they have been told will alleviate their stress are doing nothing at all. You can find the petition by clicking here.

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WJCSTeensTeen volunteers from Scarsdale who dedicate their time and talents at WJCS After-School Academy programs in Mt. Vernon received special recognition and certificates of achievement from Dr. Iris Pagan, Executive Director of the Westchester County Youth Bureau on Friday, April 21st at the Edward Williams Elementary School in Mt. Vernon. Adding their congratulations were WJCS COO Bernie Kimberg who also thanked Dr. Pagan and the Youth Bureau for their support and Linda Plattus, WJCS board member and volunteer.

WJCS after-school programs provide elementary school children with academic, youth development and enrichment activities including homework help and skills development, learning games, computer skills, music, literacy, arts and crafts, sports, nutrition and conflict resolution support children's educational achievement, and healthy social and emotional development. Teens from Mt. Vernon serve as tutors and mentors to their younger peers and the program benefits from a dedicated group of teen volunteers from Scarsdale.

Academy programs include Amazing Afternoons at Edward Williams Elementary School in Mt. Vernon and Off the Street at Hamilton Elementary School in Mt. Vernon.

A partnership with the Mt. Vernon City School District and numerous volunteers and community members, these programs are funded by the New York State Office of Children Family Services' Advantage After-School initiative, the Westchester County Youth Bureau and greatly needed support from foundations and individuals.
Founded in 1943, WJCS is one of the largest nonsectarian, non-for-profit human services agencies in Westchester. They support 20,000 Westchester residents annually to meet challenges and achieve personal success. Services include mental health treatment, a network of child and youth development initiatives, programs for people with disabilities and autism, homecare, services for older adults, and privately funded programs for the Jewish community.

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