Taking Part: Celebrating 10 Years with Hal Liberty

This Wednesday afternoon November 7th, Parker Academy hosted a special visitor, Hal Liberty.

Hal has an extensive woodcraft shop in Bradford, where for 33 years in his retirement, he has been making wooden toys for children who otherwise would have little if anything under the tree. Parker students have been volunteering to help Hal with this project for ten years, and it has been a great collaboration.

Hal spoke to the school about his background, how he got into this project, and who are the volunteers and beneficiaries. He also brought many samples of his work, to the delight of students and teachers, including planes of all types, cars, trucks, and even a cradle.  All are handcrafted from a variety of woods – including mahogany, maple, and walnut – and are designed to be completely safe for use by any child.

When Parker students are volunteering at his wood-shop, Hal walks them through safety procedures, then sets each up at a particular station, instructing them how to operate the various machines used to make the toys at different stages in the process.  Hal is personable, jovial, and very patient, and his love of making toys for kids is infectious. At the end of his presentation, Hal was presented with a Parker t-shirt and a certificate conferring on him the title of “Honorary Industrial Arts Teacher.”  Oh, and he is 85.

By Joe Webster

 

Counteract the Effects of Toxic Stress

by Martha Burns, Ph.D

STRESS!  Just the word alone causes an anxiety reaction for many of us even though stress is a part of everyone’s daily life. In fact, days on end without any stress at all would be pretty boring even though we probably all long for that sometimes.

Neuroscientists have explained how some stress is actually good for us; it helps us stay alert and adapt to changes in the world around us.

Educators and athletic coaches have found that the stress of competition through grading or scoring helps students and athletes maintain motivation. But stress can also be very harmful.  I suspect all of us have had personal experiences where we made a critical mistake or forgot something very important because we were stressed out about a problem in our daily life. So what’s the difference? Is there a dividing line between good stress and bad stress? Is it the type of stress or quantity that matters?

Although a simplistic explanation is that stress may be like many other inevitable aspects of human life – in moderation stress is good for us, in excess it is harmful. Brain scientists clarify the distinction from a biological and psychological perspective. The scientists differentiate between “tolerable stress” and “toxic stress” and emphasize how the effects on the body are quite different.

Tolerable vs Toxic Stress 

To understand these two types of stress it’s helpful to begin with an explanation of the brain’s stress mechanism. For these purposes we can separate the brain into two major divisions. We are all familiar with the advanced thinking part of the brain – the cerebrum. When we conjure an image of the human brain, it is the cerebrum we picture. But beneath that part of our brain is a more ‘body function’ oriented brain region that handles emotions, as well as basic body states like hunger and sleep. In that region there is the limbic system where emotions like fear, anger and joy are processed. Nearby is an area called the hypothalamus and a gland called the adrenal gland which work together to release hormones in response to emotions or other body states.

What physically happens with stress?

One hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress is called cortisol. That hormone is used by the body to increase our blood sugar level to enhance metabolism – helping us turn food into energy. But at the same time it suppresses our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness. Many of us are familiar with the practical effects of increased cortisol if we feel ravenously hungry, for example, after a stressful day.

Another hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress is adrenaline, also known as epinephrine.   Adrenaline causes an increase in breathing rate as well as blood circulation while it prepares our muscles for exertion. Like cortisol, adrenaline increases metabolism, especially for carbohydrates – thereby giving us the energy we need to avoid or tackle whatever it is that causes our stress.

Tolerable stressors give us the energy and strength through the increased metabolism and heightened bodily response, to get a job done effectively and efficiently.  For school-aged children, the stress of an upcoming test may provide a student with the motivation and energy to read and memorize new material. For an athlete, the stress of competition should help provide the edge needed to win. In all of these examples, the stress remains tolerable because there is an end in sight – the work project is completed.   The excess hormones then decrease, and there is a period of rest or relaxation that follows.

The difference with toxic stress is that there is no relief – the stress is ongoing and unremitting. The fight and flight hormone levels remain elevated for extended periods of time, not only negatively affecting the human body, but also changing the brain.   It’s important to remember in this regard that the brain is an experience dependent organ – it gets better at what it does most. Practice the piano a lot and you will push your brain to increase musical skills.

But, herein lies the problem with chronic toxic stress – the brain is focused on and therefore over-exercising stress responses (fight or flight).  When that happens, the brain is preparing us to act quickly and decisively, no time for thinking about the problem. So in essence, the thinking brain is blocked, so it is not exercising skills needed to do well in school.

As the brain gets better and better at responding quickly to stressful situations, the individual who has experienced toxic stress reacts more impulsively to potential stressors, like a bump on the shoulder, which may not bother someone else at all.  And, he or she remains agitated for a much longer period of time. For a student in school that can translate to highly impulsive behavior and increased aggression.  It may appear to be a lack of self-control and poor listening skills.  The student is essentially on high alert at all times which might work well in a boxing rink or basketball court but can be very problematic in a classroom.

What are some of the causes of toxic stress among school age children and is there a solution? Researchers know that chronic neglect or abuse in the home can cause toxic stress. But there are also other more subtle causes of toxic stress like ongoing marital strife between parents, chronic maternal depression, and very toxic we now know, poverty.  So what are the solutions to reducing stress for our children? Fortunately, they are more available than one might think.

  1. Supportive role models and environments: Psychologists have found that access to at least one supportive adult in a child’s environment can markedly reduce the effects of toxic stress. That can be a coach, a relative, a religious figure or, in many cases, a teacher. In fact, if you talk to successful adults who had very difficult or stressful childhoods, or who overcame extreme poverty, they will often single out a teacher or two who served as role models, inspirations and supporters.

But not only can a supportive teacher provide a relief from toxic stress – the school itself can provide a safe haven as long as the child feels protected and respected.  For that to occur, the student needs to be successful at learning, which is not easy for many students from unstable or low socioeconomic status environments.  However, several available methodologies are at hand to turn struggling learners into successful ones.

  1. Adopt a growth mindset: We have learned that when students believe that intelligence is not fixed but rather ‘smarts’ can develop through the process of learning, called a “growth mindset”, achievement is significantly accelerated.
  2. Relax: There is emerging evidence that brief periods of relaxation, meditation or yoga can relieve stress and have a positive effect on learning.
  3.  Build Cognitive and Literacy Skills: Finally, there are neuroscience-designed interventions that research indicates can specifically target and build those regions of the brain known to be important for learning, resulting in dramatic improvements in academic success.

Taking Part: Multicultural Festival

We at Parker Academy are always looking for new ways to reach out to families to include them in our adventures and successes. This is our second installment of ‘Taking Part’ in our 2018-2019 year and we hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Parker Academy students have been creating signage for the many countries being represented at the festival. They will learn about a location’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity as they volunteer for this Multicultural event. These beautiful country signs and tent menus will adorn the sidewalks and allow visitors to visually understand aspects of each culture via their art work.
The Multicultural Festival takes place on September 23rd from 11AM-4PM on the State House lawn for an amazing day of cultural diversity along with a showcase of all their hard work!
Multicultural Festival: Our mission is to create a Welcoming Community for all by fostering a culture of appreciation for diversity, providing engaging learning opportunities, and empowering new Americans with opportunities to successfully integrate and be part of our community.
The Festival is a celebration of all cultures, featuring 4+ hours of entertainment performed by local musicians and dancers, more than 20 food vendors selling delectable cuisine from their home countries, local artists selling their unique crafts, traditional arts demonstrations, activities for all ages, an international flag parade with more than 40 countries represented, and so much more.

Taking Part: Day of Caring

We at Parker Academy are always looking for new ways to reach out to families to include them in our adventures and successes. This is our first installment of ‘Taking Part’ in our 2018-2019 year and we hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Parker Academy took part in Granite United Way‘s ‘Day of Caring’ this morning. They tackled five different locations to make a difference in their community! From painting a building, removing brush or picking up litter, these kids put their all into the tasks at hand. #dayofcaring2018

US History and the Civil War – By Joe Webster

parker-academy-us-historyIn US History, the class has been learning about slavery and the Civil War. With a class size of four, the students have a lot of opportunity to ask questions and share their ideas.

We started with reading aloud portions of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” in an effort to get them used to using a “ primary source” This helps them to get an eyewitness view of the cruelties and spirit crushing impact of slavery.

We followed this with lessons on the various compromises of the antebellum period in which Congress tried unsuccessfully to balance the interests of “Free Soil” states with slaveholding states. The class engaged in a notetaking and discussion exercise with excerpts from Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” documentary.

The unit ended with a reading of journal entries by John Wilkes Booth and others about the Lincoln assassination.

The unit was a great chance to see what the students knew about the Civil War and to add to their knowledge base. It helped students to develop an understanding of the issues Americans were struggling with at that time.

When Perfectionism Takes Control – From the February Newsletter

parker-academy-perfectionism-teensThe teacher reads a story to the class and then directs the students to select a character from the story and write a description of that character. The students get busy with the project and one by one, hand in the finished work. However, some students may struggle with an assignment. What was enjoyable for the other students is a daunting task for this student because perfectionism has caused him or her to be overly self-critical.

To the outside world, perfectionists seem like super achievers, but inwardly they may be struggling to meet unusually high standards they set for themselves.

Perfectionism itself is not a bad trait, but carried to extremes, it can become destructive. Never quite satisfied with their accomplishments, they may be experiencing low self-esteem and anxiety. Perfectionists are often overly critical of themselves and others.

What can you do if you think your child may be plagued by excessive perfectionism? Avoid being critical; attempt to bolster his or her self-esteem by explaining that imperfection is acceptable. It’s okay to be average or work to the best of one’s abilities. Give praise for completed tasks. For the perfectionist, just being able to finish something is an accomplishment.

You may want to let your child’s teacher know about this trait. Educators have experience dealing with different personality types, and they should be able to work with your child.

Emotional Regulation at Parker Academy

parker-academy-emotional-regulation-chartAt Parker Academy, we help students learn how to regulate their behaviors. We utilize an “Emotional Regulation” chart to help students identify their emotional level and help them to develop strategies to manage their emotions. The lessons and learning activities that we use are designed to help students recognize when they are in the different zones as well as how to use strategies to change the zone they are in.

In addition to addressing self-regulation, students gain an increased awareness of emotional terms, develop skills in reading other people’s facial expressions, and gain a better perspective about how others see and react to their behavior. Students gain better insight into events that may trigger their behavior, and develop calming, alerting, and problem solving strategies.

Parents can help the efforts of the school and the student. Your child’s advisor can provide you with a copy of the “Emotional Regulation” chart or you can use the one that has been attached.
Parents can help by using language similar to what is used at the school and talk about the concepts of the emotional regulation zones as they apply to you in a variety of environments.

You can comment aloud so that your child understands that everyone experiences the different zones and use strategies to control (or regulate) ourselves.

For example, “This is really frustrating me and making me go into the Yellow Zone.”

“I need to use a tool to calm down.” “I will take some deep breaths and practice mindfulness.” Help your child gain awareness of his or her emotional regulation zones and feelings by pointing out your own.

Parents can talk about what zone is “expected” in the situation or how a zone may have been “unexpected.” They can share with the student how his or her behavior is affecting the zone you are in and how you feel. Parents can help the student become comfortable using language to communicate his or her feelings and needs, encouraging the student to share his or her zone with you.

Ask the student if s/he wants reminders to use these tools and how you should present these reminders. Ask the student to frequently share his or her Zones Folder with you and talk about what he or she has learned.

Make sure you frequently reinforce the student for being in the expected zone rather than only pointing out when his or her zone is unexpected. It is important to note that everyone experiences all of the zones. All of the zones are expected at one time or another. The Zones of Regulation are intended to be neutral and not communicate judgment.

With your support at home, your child can benefit from learning how to identify their regulation level and then develop strategies to manage their behavior.

Bullying Affects Mental Health

parker academy consequences of bullyingPrior to the opening of school, the staff participated in a workshop on bullying. They were trained in what is and what isn’t bullying, and reviewed the signs that suggest bullying is taking place.

Although we haven’t seen much bullying here, we want to remain vigilant. We know that approximately 30% of students in

public schools, almost one-third of kids in grades six through 12, experience bullying. Bullying ranges from name-calling and teasing to threats, lies, pushing, and hitting.

We know that bullying can leave a lifelong legacy of depression, low self-esteem, and behavioral problems. We recommend the following:

Plan a response. Offer your child different approaches, such as ignoring the bully. Or try a response that may catch the bully off guard, such as, “Why would you say something like that to me?”

Report the bully. If your child pleads with you not to report bullying to the teacher, consider talking to the teacher anyway. Ask that your child not be identified and that the bully be better supervised.

If your child is doing the bullying, talk with him or her about how that makes other kids feel. Get your child involved in projects that require helping and cooperating with others.