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Boston Increases Reading Scores on Nation’s Report Card

Good news for Boston in the latest release from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP):

Fourth graders in Boston Public Schools had NAEP reading scores higher than the national average for public school students in large cities in 2009. Of the 11 urban districts examined, Boston was one of four that showed an increase in average reading scores. You can view more data about Boston’s fourth grade reading scores here.

NAEP also surveyed eighth graders’ reading proficiency. While they too had above average reading scores for public school students in large cities, there was no significant difference between the 2009 and 2007 results.  Eighth grade reading scores are available here.

However, urban schools still lag behind the nationwide average. Taking all of the 11 urban districts’ results into consideration, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement:

Today’s report shows that the reading achievement of students in our largest cities has increased over time. At the same time, the results also show that cities have significant work to do . . . In cities, towns, and rural areas across the country, we have to work together so that all children are receiving the world-class education they deserve.

Boston Globe Coverage of Secretary Duncan’s Visit

The Boston Globe spent the day with Education Secretary Arne Duncan as he made several stops around the city–read their account of the day’s events here.

Education Secretary Visits Boston’s Quincy School

Secretary Duncan
Secretary Duncan

On a day-long visit to Boston today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be holding a round-table discussion about school-community partnerships at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood. The Quincy school is one of City Connects’ largest elementary schools with nearly 800 students and two site coordinators.

Josiah Quincy Elementary School, Boston
Josiah Quincy Elementary School, Boston

Mary E. Walsh, executive director of CCNX and the Kearns Professor of Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at Boston College, and Pat DiNatale, CCNX director of implementation, will be representing City Connects in the discussion, which will also be attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Superintendent Carol R. Johnson.  Following the discussion, second- and third-grade Quincy students are scheduled to perform a traditional dance in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. Secretary Duncan is also planning to pay tribute to Boston Educators of the Year as part of a discussion with them about effective strategies for academic success.

City Connects Hosts Community Agency Breakfast

More than 30 community-based agencies and nonprofit organizations who partner with City Connects gathered today to discuss efforts to improve students’ health and wellness.

“It takes a whole child approach to teaching and learning,” said Pat DiNatale, director of implementation at CCNX, “and together we can align our resources to best address students’ strengths and needs, as well as their health and well-being.”

The meeting kicked off with a “Jammin’ Minute,” 60 seconds of choreographed light exercise that is performed in CCNX schools every morning. Representatives from partner agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay and Tenacity shared updates and conferred with CCNX’s site and health coordinators about ways to build and maintain the most effective partnerships. Suggestions about student referrals, transportation, and follow-up were sought, leading to sharing of best practices between organizations.

To wrap up the gathering, CCNX health coordinator Carey Jacobs, certified child yoga instructor, demonstrated yoga and meditation practices she leads at the Gardner Pilot Academy, complete with breathing exercises designed to promote awareness of the mind-body connection.

Health is integral to a child’s academic success. Our data show that the City Connects-New Balance Foundation Health and Wellness program significantly improves students’ key indicators of thriving: classroom behavior, work habits, and effort. After the program, students demonstrated greater knowledge and reported making healthier decisions about nutrition and well-being. Ninety-one percent of teachers in CCNX schools believe that the health curriculum has a positive impact on their students’ health choices outside of the classroom.

Childhood Obesity Task Force Unveils Action Plan

From the White House: Today, First Lady Michelle Obama joined members of the Childhood Obesity Task Force to unveil the Task Force action plan: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation.

“For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measurable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time,” Mrs. Obama said.

In February, the First Lady launched the Let’s Move! campaign to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation.  As part of this effort, the President established the Task Force on Childhood Obesity to develop and implement an inter-agency plan that details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks, and outlines an action plan to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.

The action plan defines solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation as returning to a childhood obesity rate of just 5% by 2030, which was the rate before childhood obesity first began to rise in the late 1970s.  In total, the report presents a series of 70 specific recommendations, many of which can be implemented right away.  Summarizing them broadly, they include:

  • Giving children a healthy start on life
  • Empowering parents and caregivers with simpler actionable messages about nutrition
  • Providing healthy food in schools
  • Improving access to healthy, affordable food
  • Getting children more physically active

The Boston Globe recently reported that Massachusetts’ rate of childhood obesity was 13.3% and the overweight rate was 30%. While the obesity rate is lower than the national average of 16.4%, the overweight rate is almost par at 31.6%.

CDC Analysis Shows PE Benefits Academic Performance

Be Fit! Visit www.cdc.govThe Curriculum Matters blog covered an analysis conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today, which found a positive association between physical activity and academic performance. Published this past April, the CDC analyzed 50 studies that contained 251 associations between activity and academic performance; more than half of the associations were found to be positive. The analysis concluded that:

  • Physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores
  • Physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills, attitudes, and academic behavior, such as enhanced concentration and attention
  • Increasing or maintaining time dedicated to PE may help–and not does appear to adversely impact–academic performance

Based on this evidence, the CDC encourages schools to continue and encourage school-based PE, recess, classroom-based physical activity, and extracurricular physical activities.

This study comes on the heels of the House passing the FIT Kids Act (Fitness Integrated with Teaching) that mandates schools report on how they promote healthy lifestyles and implement their PE curriculum.

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Today is the fifth anniversary of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Check out their website for ways you can get involved and help increase understanding of the mental health needs of children and their families.

Eliot School Kicks Off Walking Club

On May 4, 33 seventh grade students from the Eliot School clipped on  pedometers and set off for a two-mile walk down the Rose Kennedy Greenway in the heart of Boston to launch the school’s Walking Club.

Eliot School seventh graders hang out with Wally the Green Monster before setting off on their Greenway walk.

Developed by clinicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for students and their families, the Walking Club was a pilot program at the Eliot implemented by Amelia Tonkin, the school’s City Connects-New Balance Foundation health and wellness coordinator. Tucked into Boston’s cozy North End neighborhood, the Eliot doesn’t have a gym, so Amelia embraced the opportunity to motivate her students to exercise outside of school. BIDMC provided a pedometer for each student, as well as one for a family member, to help walkers keep tally their steps; the launch yesterday racked up 4,500 steps alone! The students were joined by State Senator Anthony Petruccelli, who represents the North End and applauded the Walking Club’s focus on exercise as a way to prevent future medical conditions like obesity and high blood pressure. Wally the Green Monster, team mascot of the Boston Red Sox, also cheered on the walkers.

“We know that physical fitness is a vital part of a well-rounded education,” said Traci Walker-Griffith, principal of the Eliot. “We are thrilled that Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is collaborating with our teachers and students on such an important issue. We are also excited that we are able to fold the important educational aspects of this program into our curriculum.”

The Walking Club kit teaches students about the many physical and mental proven health benefits of walking. It includes vocabulary words, a walking quiz, a chart of key muscles used when walking, and a diary to record their exercise. It also explains how to calculate heart rates and evaluate the level of intensity of the exercise.

Despite warm temperatures, the Eliot School students walked 2 miles from their school down the Greenway and back. “The  Walking Club will ensure that our students and families engage in health and wellness initiatives available within Boston’s urban location,” said Amelia Tonkin. “By educating our students about the benefits of walking and how to use pedometers, we look forward to utilizing this partnership to keep the Eliot community healthy in an enjoyable way.”

Watch WCVB Channel 5’s coverage of the walk here.

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