Update: Wellness Policy to Be Presented to the Charlottesville School Board on August 3

This evening, a wellness policy that prohibits taking away recess as punishment will be presented to the Charlottesville City School Board. The board will vote on the policy at their next meeting on September 7.

The wellness policy is a revision of a previous policy and was drafted by the School Health Advisory Board under the guidance of Patrick Johnson, the CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education.

While I was not able to attend the SHAB meeting last month when the final draft of the policy was discussed, I spoke with Patrick by email and phone after the meeting. I am very pleased with the wellness policy that is going to be presented tonight. I think it best to wait until it is presented to the board to discuss the details, but I can say now that it states explicitly that recess will not be withheld as punishment. The policy also addresses the issue of weighing students. I believe it does so in a way that is clear and empowering for students and their families.

I look forward to writing more about the policy after tonight’s board meeting. As long as it seems appropriate at the time, which I think it will, I am going to live tweet the presentation of the policy to the board and the board’s response. You can follow along on Twitter: https://twitter.com/c_v_bennett.

What this campaign needs from its numerous supporters: can you mark September 5 on your calendars and show up to the school board meeting that evening? There is a time at the beginning of meetings for community members to speak for three minutes. It would be wonderful if the board could hear from other parents who want them to pass the wellness policy. If you can’t show up in person, please consider writing to the board members and our superintendent, Dr. Rosa Atkins. I am pasting below their email addresses.

CCS Board Webpage

Email our CCS board members:

School Board           SchoolBoard@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Adam Hastings hastina1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Sherry Kraft        krafts1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Amy Laufer   laufea1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Jennifer McKeever mckeevj1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Ned Michie   michien1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Leah Puryear           puryeal1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Juandiego Wade wadej1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins Rosa.Atkins@charlottesvilleschools.org

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

 

Father’s Day

Parenting is hard. You know you’re going to unwittingly do something that messes your kid up, but you’re not sure what it’s going to be. There are many things that I’m not sure I’m doing right, but I know we’re doing our best.

On this Father’s Day Eve, Mike is downstairs dyeing Emma’s hair with kool-aid, something he helps her do every summer, at her request. When you have a dad who helps you dye your hair blue, everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok, don’t you think?

When I was in middle school, I was in a spelling bee. After the bee, my dad gave me a Precious Moments figurine – I collected them – that said “You’re A Winner” on it. He bought it for me before he knew if I had won or not. I had not. Didn’t matter.

Everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok.

And for those of us for whom it is not yet ok, I believe there is always a second chance to be fathered, by fathers who know better now or by friends or pastors or brothers, biological and the ones we meet throughout life. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end yet.

Update: June 1 Visit to the Charlottesville City School Board

On June 1, I made the below statement to the Charlottesville City School Board as a follow-up to my May 4 statement and the petition to stop weigh-ins and taking away recess at Charlottesville City Schools.

I requested that written communication be sent to ALL CCS parents, teachers, and administrators, stating that recess is not to be taken away from students in our schools, so that everyone is of the same understanding. The only school board member to address my request was Jennifer McKeever, who expressed support for the idea. CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins also responded, saying that she had already communicated to administrators and teachers her commitment to not withholding recess. She did not agree to communicate to all stakeholders one message at the same time.

I will continue asking for communication to all parents, teachers, and administrators in a way that will ensure everyone is aware of the policy.

June 1 Statement to the Board
Hello, I’m Christa Bennett. I wanted to check back in with you all after I spoke last month about my concerns about the policies of weighing students during gym class and taking away recess as punishment.

In the past month, I’ve been impressed to learn more about people like Patrick Johnson and the other members of the School Health Advisory Board, who have already been thinking about these issues and working on promoting the health of our students. Like I said last month, I’m glad to be part of Charlottesville City Schools.

On May 9, Dr. Atkins gave a wonderfully definitive statement at the SHAB meeting, that recess will not and should not be taken away from students. I appreciate her leadership.

However, in the weeks since then, I have heard of several instances of recess being taken away from students, in three different city schools. As you can imagine, since I started the petition last month, numerous parents have reached out to me with their stories. They’re hesitant to tell them publicly because they don’t want their children singled out or treated differently, but their stories let me know that I am doing the right thing in pushing for clarity on this issue.

To that end, I ask Dr. Atkins and the school board to send written communication to every CCS parent, teacher, and administrator affirming that recess is not to be taken away from students. This commitment is only meaningful if every stakeholder is aware of it.

In addition to asking you for this written commitment to be distributed as soon as possible, I am applying to join SHAB, and I look forward to revisiting the issues of weigh-ins and recess as we finalize the wellness policy.

Over 100 local people have signed an online petition asking YOU, the school board, to end weigh-ins and taking away recess. A number of the signors are graduates and faculty at the Curry School of Education and in the UVA Health System. In my remaining time, I want to read you some of the comments left by those who signed, all of which are available publicly on the petition.

– I have been a classroom teacher, and I know how difficult classroom management can be. However, my own child was help in from recess in a CCS classroom for not completing written work in first grade. It turns out he had a learning disability, and staying in compounded his stress and anxiety tremendously. There are better alternatives than taking away important exercise, play, and social time.

– I am a Ph.D. student at the university of Virginia. At the collegiate level, I still deal with the effects of unhealthy self images and health practices my students learned in childhood. Please stop weighing children in front of their peers and taking away their recess. You are sacrificing long term health for short term problems.

– I am 56 and I still vividly remember being weighed in elementary school. I was a chubby one and was mortified; another girl was so skinny and she was mortified, too.

– As a child health professional, these are archaic practices that have little evidence or benefit to learning or child wellness.

And finally, one of my favorites:

– The number of studies showing that exercise improves learning is astounding. Let’s show our students that we “do our homework,” and remove the practice of taking away recess time.

Thank you again to the school board for considering these matters, and addressing them until they are fully resolved.

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

Update: Campaign to end weigh-ins, taking away recess – what we’re asking for now, May 24

Cville Weekly has published a story about our campaign to end weigh-ins and taking away recess in Charlottesville city schools. (Click here to read it.) I am hopeful this will direct more CCS parents to sign our petition to the school board.

There has been progress since the petition was first created. Here is what we are asking for now:

1) Our superintendent, Dr. Atkins, send written communication to ALL CCS parents, teachers, and admin, stating that recess is not to be taken away from students in our schools, so that everyone is of the same understanding. On May 11, I emailed Dr. Atkins asking if such communication could be made. I have not had a reply from her yet. (See a copy of that email in the previous update.)

On May 9, Dr. Atkins stated to School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) that recess will not and should not be taken away from students. However, I have heard three separate reports from three separate CCS elementary schools of students having their recess taken away last week, the week after Dr. Atkins said that would no longer happen.

2) Dr. Atkins and the school board identify what tools teachers will be given immediately to use in place of so-called “Recess Academy.”

While programs such as VVTS and PBIS are valuable initiatives to institute positive behavioral management, teachers need tools *now* that they can use instead of Recess Academy (this is what some teachers call the practice of taking away recess as punishment).

3) A more transparent and methodical approach to weigh-ins be established. That might mean banning it altogether or better communicating with parents that it is being done and why.

4) An enforceable prohibition against taking away recess be included in the school policy manual or other binding policy.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting this campaign! Charlottesville city schools are strong schools, to be proud of. Together, we can make them even better and help ensure the health and success of all of our children.

*****

Read evidence supporting my request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

Mother’s Day

For those for whom Mother’s Day is painful, may today land gently.

For those who are missing a mother or had a mother ill-equipped to raise them, remember that we are all held, always, in a Mother Love that will never let us go.

If it helps, you can also laugh at this by Anne Lamott:
“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult[…] The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.”

So let’s just hold each other and recognize that there’s many ways of mothering, and that not one of us can mother perfectly, and that’s why we need grace, so much grace, because sometimes it goes wrong, even when we very much wanted it to go right, but there’s always – I really believe this – a second chance to be mothered, by mothers who know better now or by friends or pastors or sisters, biological and the ones we meet throughout life.

Another thought I find comfort in, in light of the transient nature of our life here on earth, from Roberta Bondi: “It has always been the deepest of mysteries to me that my mother has an intimate knowledge of me as a baby and as a child that I myself can never have access to at all. It is as though a fundamental part of me has existence only in my mother’s memory, and when my mother dies this part of me will die too. In the same way, God my mother holds the whole of me forever in God’s ever-present memory, and God will never die.”

Much love, from my mama heart to all of you. xoxo

Update: My visit to CCS School Health Advisory Board

In a campaign to end weigh-ins and taking away recess in Charlottesville City Schools (CCS), I attended a meeting of the CCS School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) this past Tuesday, May 9. Below is a summary (the tl;dr version!), a full update, next actions, and a list of news coverage we’ve received.

If you haven’t already, please do share the petition with your friends! It would be great to reach 100 supporters, to make sure that the school board follows through with their commitment to recess and consideration of the weigh-in policy.

Summary

  • CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins made an unequivocal statement that recess should not and will not be taken away from students. She says the responsibility for ensuring it doesn’t happen lies with her. If a parent has a concern about recess, they may email her directly: atkinsr1@charlottesvilleschools.org.
  • Weigh-ins have been suspended in CCS. The practice is being reviewed by SHAB. If I understand correctly, they are going to further discuss the practice of weigh-ins. In August, they will present to the board a draft of a revised wellness policy, and that will include a recommendation regarding weigh-ins.

Full update
The most notable part of the meeting was that CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins was there and stated unequivocally that recess should not and will not be taken away from students. A parent who has served on SHAB for awhile asked, “When we hear from our students that it’s happening, whose responsibility is it to make it stop?” Dr. Atkins replied that she would take responsibility and that any parent with concerns about recess being taken away may email her directly: atkinsr1@charlottesvilleschools.org.

I was very pleased with Dr. Atkins’ definitive statement. Yesterday, May 11, I emailed Dr. Atkins, asking, 1) What behavior management tools will be given to teachers to replace Recess Academy, for those who were using it?, and 2) Could you please send written communication to all CCS teachers and parents stating the renewed commitment to recess.

I have pasted below a copy of that email. I will post another update when I hear back from Dr. Atkins.

Note: it seemed at the May 4 school board meeting that Dr. Atkins and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum James Henderson stated that the CCS Policy Manual prohibited taking away recess as punishment. However, I could not find such a regulation in the manual. At the SHAB meeting, I asked Dr. Atkins for clarification, and she said that indeed there was no such prohibition in the policy manual.

Regarding the weigh-ins, they are currently suspended and have been since late March. During the suspension, the practice of weigh-ins is being reviewed – I believe by the SHAB and Patrick Johnson, CCS oordinator of Health and Physical Education. I asked Mr. Johnson what prompted the suspension but have not heard back yet. I emailed Dr. Atkins about weigh-ins and recess in March, but it is not clear that is the reason for the suspension.

It is clear, however, that Johnson and the members of the SHAB have been thinking about weigh-ins and recess policy for awhile. In the past few months, they have drafted a new wellness policy, including a prohibition on taking away recess as punishment.

If I understood correctly, SHAB will again discuss weigh-ins at their July meeting. The new wellness policy will be presented to the school board at their August meeting. I am not clear on whether the wellness policy is binding or if a regulation has to be included in the policy manual to be binding.

Next actions

  • I hope to hear from Dr. Atkins about what behavior tools will be provided to teachers instead of Recess Academy. There are good teachers who were instructed to use Recess Academy. I want to make sure they have the support they need to transition to other methods of behavior management.
  • I plan to attend the July SHAB meeting and the August school board meeting, with the intention of being part of the discussion regarding weigh-ins.
  • I will clarify with a school board member or CCS employee whether the wellness policy is binding. If it is not, then I will push for a prohibition against recess-as-punishment to be included in the policy manual.

Our campaign in the news
May 4

May 9

Email to Dr. Atkins
Dear Dr. Atkins,
Thank you again for your powerful, definitive statement at the School Health Advisory Board on Tuesday afternoon, that recess should not and will not be taken away in Charlottesville city schools , and that any parent who hears that this has happened may email you directly to address it.

I have two follow up questions I hope you might be able to address:
1) What behavior management tools will be given to teachers instead, in the short term? When we spoke after the meeting, you mentioned the VTTS program. That sounds like a positive plan to be implementing, but I am wondering about, e.g., teachers who are caring and good at their jobs, but nonetheless have still been taking away recess minutes. Will those teachers have support from the principals and you to come up with alternative methods for the last few weeks of this school year?

2) I know you are personally communicating with principals the renewed commitment to recess. Could you also provide an email or written communication that could go out to teachers and to all CCS parents, so that all have a statement from you, to which they can point if there is confusion over Recess Academy or other forms of taking away recess?

Again, I really appreciate the thought and time you’ve given to this. Additionally, it is obvious there are many people in CCS who have been working on these issues for some time. I have been particularly impressed by Patrick Johnson and the work of SHAB.

Thank you again.
Best wishes,
Christa

*****

Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read evidence supporting my request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.

In the news: Campaign to end weigh-ins, recess being taken away in Charlottesville city schools

Our campaign in the news
May 4

May 9

May 24

June 1