Make Food Fun for Kids!

— by Sarina Roffé

We get so many of our eating habits from when we are children, that it is important to teach them good habits at a young age. It seems that childhood obesity has become a national epidemic. In my granddaughter’s school this year, junk food was forbidden with lunch. The rule was a protein, a veggie and a fruit. No chips, pretzels or cookies. Lunches became more difficult when the school became a peanut free zone, and we now had to think harder about lunches. The no snack rule permeated the school and because it was a school-wide, the children learned not to expect junk food. Teaching children these good habits helps them to live a healthier lifestyle. It also helps your children avoid being overweight.

There are many ways to make healthy food fun for your child. A few hints. Make sandwiches fun by using cookie cutters and letting them cut out shapes in their sandwiches. Slice carrots and use cherry tomatoes or other veggies to make faces on a sandwich. Use strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and banana slices to make food art – a butterfly, or caterpillar. Make faces out of rice cakes using apple slices for ears. Make orange juice ice pops during the summer. As parents, it is our responsibility to promote healthy eating in our children so that it becomes a habit. Check out the recipes on our website and in our app, due out later this summer.Sarina’s Sephardic Cuisine is a collection of kosher family recipes derived from Esther Cohen Salem, Sarina’s grandmother, and Renee Salem Missry, her mother. The authentic recipes in the cooking app were handed down from mother to daughter with love and are traditional foods found in the Levant.

Distracted Driving: Where do you draw the line?

— by Peter Dissinger

It is no stretch to say that distracted driving is an epidemic in today’s world. Whether texting, fiddling with the radio, calling a friend, or even using the GPS, there are so many easy ways for any driver to become distracted in an instant. This is especially true for teens, including myself. Maybe it’s a notification from our incredibly useful smart phones or even an inclination to be reckless, but research shows that teenagers are especially at risk for these types of behaviors. It may seem shocking to some adults, but from my perspective, this is not radical data; it is the real experience of so many teenagers (and probably adults as well).

The video Distracted Driving: Where do you draw the line? was created for the “Put the Brakes on Distract Driving” campaign of the Coalition for Youth of Lower Merion and Narberth.

Early Math is as Important as Early Literacy

— by Connie Orman

How can we help our children become academically accomplished? Parents want to do what is best for their children, but don’t always know how they can help. According to a Northwestern University 2007 study of 35,000 preschoolers in the United States, Canada and England, when controlling for IQ, family income, gender, temperament, type of previous educational experience, and whether children came from single or two parent families, the study found that the mastery of early math concepts on school entry was the very strongest predictor of future academic success. “Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement,” Greg Duncan, author of the study, said. “And it does so just as reliably as early literacy mastery of vocabulary, letters and phonetics predicts later reading success. The opposite, reading skills predicting math success, does not hold up.” However, in early learning environments, most of the time and attention are focused upon early language and literacy skills.

More after the jump.
According to Jennifer McCray of the Erikson Institute, for every 100 early childhood classrooms in session on a day, 96% would engage in language and literacy activities that day, 30% would engage in some form of art or music, but only 21% would engage in any math activities. Early childhood settings are not engaging in mathematics in even the most cursory manner.These are the findings for formal child care settings and preschools. Children that stay at home, stay with relatives or are in home child care settings, are most likely receiving even fewer opportunities to explore mathematical concepts.

Parents and educators are encouraged to provide early literacy and language activities such as reading to children, teaching the left to right convention, singing the alphabet song, pointing out letters and words, sounding out letter phonics and words, correcting misconceptions and errors. Yet when similar mathematical concept activities are provided, it is often looked at as not developmentally appropriate or necessary.

Mathematical literacy is not just as important as reading literacy, it has been proven to be even more so. Just as reading literacy should be introduced from birth with reading and language activities, mathematical concepts should be introduced early and often as well.

The reality is that we do math every day at every age in multiple ways. We graph, sort, compare and contrast, group, measure, count in context, do 1-1 correspondence, quantify, pattern, study geometry, and the list goes on. It is all done through hands-on, playful activities.

So if you have the care of a young child and are not currently doing activities that enhance math concepts, I strongly urge you to do so. All it takes is looking for fun, preferably hands-on or movement-based opportunities.

  • Count blocks, toys, the number of flowers on a page in a book, using the child’s finger, or toe, or elbow to touch each one as the number is said.
  • Pattern cars, blocks, rocks, Fruit Loops.
  • Line up the teddy bears or dollies from smallest to biggest and the other direction.
  • Measure how long some things are in the number of your hand prints and the child’s and compare the two.
  • Discuss amount concepts such as more/less, greater/fewer, a little/a lot, taller/shorter, bigger/smaller.
  • Discuss time concepts such as morning, night, later, after, before, when.
  • Discuss ordinal count concepts such as the third dolly in line is wearing a pink dress, you go first and I’ll go second.
  • Point out numbers in the environment such as price signs and license plate numbers.
  • Count stair steps and anything else that can be felt through movement or touch.
  • Introduce a ruler, tape measure, pound scale, balance scale, yardstick, measuring cups, etc. as tools to measure.
  • Discuss the weather temperature.
  • Discuss prices and money. Don’t just say it costs too much, say it costs $5.46 and I don’t have enough money for that.
  • Discuss shapes in the environment, and not just circles and squares. A sliver of moon is a crescent, an oat container is a cylinder, a ball is a sphere.
  • Deconstruct quantities into various equations, “You have 6 cars. Three red cars and three blue cars. That makes 6 cars in all. Three and three is six, two threes is six.”
  • “Do you want 1 or 2 cookies?” Hold up both quantities so the child can grasp the significance.  Believe me. An 18 month old can figure out which is better. One plus two!
  • Mathematics has its own language, whenever available use the opportunity to describe mathematical thinking. “If we divide this candy bar into four equal pieces, then each of us will get the same amount, one-fourth of the candy bar.”

Just as a child will not immediately be able to read from being read to, a child will not immediately be able to do math from being introduced to math concepts. But similarly, it sets the stage for scaffolding knowledge. It builds a repository of information for them to access as they encounter relevant situations and opportunities to test and manipulate that information.

Since so little attention has been paid to mathematics as an early introduction subject, it will be interesting to see what children can accomplish if it is given the same time and attention as early literacy. I know my students far exceed my expectations of what they should be capable of understanding.

With earlier attention to this important aspect of children’s education, maybe the science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives will begin to have even greater success in luring students into these fascinating and needed fields.

Connie Orman is the creator of Little Stars Learning.

Make Food Fun for Kids!

— by Sarina Roffé

We get so many of our eating habits from when we are children, that it is important to teach them good habits at a young age. It seems that childhood obesity has become a national epidemic. In my granddaughter’s school this year, junk food was forbidden with lunch. The rule was a protein, a veggie and a fruit. No chips, pretzels or cookies. Lunches became more difficult when the school became a peanut free zone, and we now had to think harder about lunches. The no snack rule permeated the school and because it was a school-wide, the children learned not to expect junk food. Teaching children these good habits helps them to live a healthier lifestyle. It also helps your children avoid being overweight.

More after the jump.
There are many ways to make healthy food fun for your child. A few hints. Make sandwiches fun by using cookie cutters and letting them cut out shapes in their sandwiches. Slice carrots and use cherry tomatoes or other veggies to make faces on a sandwich. Use strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and banana slices to make food art – a butterfly, or caterpillar. Make faces out of rice cakes using apple slices for ears. Make orange juice ice pops during the summer. As parents, it is our responsibility to promote healthy eating in our children so that it becomes a habit. Check out the recipes on our website and in our app, due out later this summer.

Sarina’s Sephardic Cuisine is a collection of kosher family recipes derived from Esther Cohen Salem, Sarina’s grandmother, and Renee Salem Missry, her mother. The authentic recipes in the cooking app were handed down from mother to daughter with love and are traditional foods found in the Levant.

Book Review: Zayde Comes to Live

— Reviewed by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

It takes a remarkable soul and talented writer to accomplish the simplicity, elegance and gentle support accomplished in Sheri Sinykin’s award-winning children’s book Zayde Comes to Live with illustrations by Kristina Swarner. Zayde is Yiddish for grandfather and the grandparent does not need to live in your home for this powerful book to have great value. When family dynamics allow for it, the reciprocal love, between a grandparent and a grandchild can be one of life’s most precious and memorable gifts. Even so a great challenge arises for those who live long enough, as the grandfather explains simply and clearly to his little granddaughter:

“My body is getting tired. I know you can see this. Soon that outside part of me will return to the earth.”

The granddaughter responds with the eternal voice of the child to ask: “But what happens to the inside part of you?” It is here that we realize just how tenderly and accessibly the author has come to our rescue in the pages that have lead up to this poignant moment.

More after the jump.
This brief illustrated volume makes it possible to appreciate what the grandfather calls “the cycle of life” in action:

“Now he lives in a sleeper-chair in the living room…He watches squirrels in the trees. And movies on TV. And me….”

Sinykin’s Zayde gives us the perspectives and words we may well need in our mouths for accompanying our family members, and no less ourselves, with dignity and kindness to the very end. Each of the little granddaughter’s observations of Zayde‘s changes in status help us to normalize and accept as living life’s final chapter.

“When we read, he gets out of breath and I say, “It’s okay, Zayde. Let me.”

The granddaughter learns from friends about their traditions’ after death traditions ideas. And she asks her rabbi:

“Is Zayde dying?” I ask him, because rabbis do not lie.”

I love the rabbi’s answer; his name is Rabbi Lev. Lev means “heart” in Hebrew. And when the granddaughter continues, after the rabbi answers, she asks:

“When Zayde dies…what will happen to him?”

Every page is important reading rich in child-appropriate responses and approaches in response to which the granddaughter’s imagination takes off in such healthy and helpful ways. This is a reminder to us how adult-style thinking and worry can get in the way of simply loving and living in each moment. Our souls travel with hers and Zayde‘s.

Time progresses. Zayde sleeps more and more. Sinykin continutes to show us how to relate, with simple inquiry, just like the granddaughter does.

“What were you dreaming about, Zayde?”

The granddaughter’s voice, deliberately nameless, becomes our own.

“‘I don’t want you to die, Zadye.’ Her voice “whispers like his air machine.'”

The grandfather’s response when she says this is perfect. I urge everyone to read this book. It is certainly what I want to be able to tell my grandchildren someday, rooted in shalom, the Hebrew word for peace and completeness.

The author the granddaughter begin to collect memories about her grandfather, while he yet lives. Each step of the way, this read-over-and over-styled book prepares us to create and receive comfort, intimacy and meaning for living. The title, Zayde Comes to Live, contains a pun so beautiful as to immediately inspire us toward a deeper understanding of this time of life.

The only fault with the volume is the opportunity lost by author and illustrator to honor diversity in Jewish families, by reflecting some diversity within the family itself, a Sephardi relative or main character perhaps. Nono is grandfather in Ladino, and nona is grandmother. That said, the illustrations are very accessible windows in and of themselves into heartfelt, thoughtful, healthy exploration for all faiths into this step of the way forward for each and every soul.

Did I mention today is my father’s yahrzeit? Yahrzeitis Yiddish for the annual memorial for a soul’s passing, the Ladino term is nahala. Last night, as is traditional, we lit a memorial candle at home because a single flame is the Jewish symbol for a soul. The candle is burning beside me as I write this review of yahrzeit, which I first read a year ago, when it first came out. Life was too painful to write on this topic then, so soon after several traumatic deaths of loved ones, and not at all the fault of the volume.

It’s not so easy to write when crying — even so, the tears are good tears and the memories of many good times together are beautiful to revisit. I do wish that Zayde Comes to Live would have come out just a bit sooner. Turns out it’s not just for (grand)children.

Palestinian Parents Opting for Israeli School Curriculum

(CAMERA) In an article published on Sept. 13, Why Some Palestinians Want to Learn Like Israelis, The Christian Science Monitor exposes how Palestinians in east Jerusalem are torn between their commitment to an ideology, that rejects any accommodation to the reality of a unified Jerusalem under Israeli control, and their desire to provide a better future for their children. According to David Koren, adviser on east Jerusalem to the Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barakat:

The Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas may oppose this but parents know that the future of their children is in Israel… In a series of meetings with us, parents requested having the option of the Israeli curriculum. People were paying 12,000 shekels ($3,430 dollars) for private courses to prepare their children for Israeli universities and they asked the mayor, why not open a track within the school?

While Palestinian officials continue to demand unswerving obedience to their political agenda, some parents place a higher priority on a better education and more prosperous future for their children.  

Fact Sheet: Obama’s Better Bargain for Middle Class Families in PA

Tuition at the University of Hawaii 1974-1975

A higher education is the single most important investment students can make in their own futures. At the same time, it has never been more expensive. That is why since taking office, President Obama has made historic investments in college affordability, increasing the maximum Pell Grant award for working and middle class families by more than $900, creating the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and enacting effective student loan reforms eliminating bank subsidies and making college more affordable.  

However, despite these measures, college tuition keeps rising. The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by only 16 percent, according to data from the College Board. In Pennsylvania, about 902,200 undergraduate students are enrolled in higher education institutions across the state. For the 2011-12 school year, the average cost of attendance for in-state undergraduate students at public colleges and universities living on campus reached $24,713 in Pennsylvania. And according to estimates from The Institute for College Access and Success, graduating seniors who borrowed to attend college in Pennsylvania left school with an average of $29,959 in debt.

Declining state funding has forced students to shoulder a bigger proportion of college costs; tuition has almost doubled as a share of public college revenues over the past 25 years from 25 percent to 47 percent. While a college education remains a worthwhile investment overall, the average borrower now graduates with over $26,000 in debt. Only 58 percent of full-time students who began college in 2004 earned a four-year degree within six years. Loan default rates are rising, and too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to start a family, buy a home, launch a business, or save for retirement.

Plan details and more after the jump.

President’s Plan for Making College More Affordable:

Paying for Performance:

  • Tie financial aid to college performance, starting with publishing new college ratings before the 2015 school year.
  • Challenge states to fund public colleges based on performance.
  • Hold students and colleges receiving student aid responsible for making progress toward a degree.

Promoting Innovation and Competition:

  • Challenge colleges to offer students a greater range of affordable, high-quality options than they do today.
  • Give consumers clear, transparent information on college performance to help them make the decisions that work best for them.
  • Encourage innovation by stripping away unnecessary regulations.

Ensuring that Student Debt Remains Affordable:

  • Help ensure borrowers can afford their federal student loan debt by allowing all borrowers to cap their payments at 10 percent of their monthly income.
  • Reach out to struggling borrowers to ensure that they are aware of the flexible options available to help them to repay their debt.

President Obama outlined an ambitious new agenda to combat rising college costs and make college affordable for American families. His plan will measure college performance through a new ratings system so students and families have the information to select schools that provide the best value. And after this ratings system is well established, Congress can tie federal student aid to college performance so that students maximize their federal aid at institutions providing the best value. The President’s plan will also take down barriers that stand in the way of competition and innovation particularly in the use of new technology, and shine a light on the most cutting-edge college practices for providing high value at low costs. And to help student borrowers struggling with their existing debt, the President is committed to ensuring that all borrowers who need it can have access to the Pay As You Earn plan that caps loan payments at 10 percent of income, and is directing the Department of Education to ramp up its efforts to reach out to students struggling with their loans to make sure they know and understand all their repayment options.  

Pay Colleges and Students for Performance

The federal government provides over $150 billion each year in student financial aid. Of that total, higher education institutions in Pennsylvania will receive more than $7,039,000,000 in federal student aid funding (including Pell Grants, undergraduate federal student loans, graduate and parent federal student loans, and campus-based aid) in the 2013-14 school year. Meanwhile, all fifty states collectively invest over $70 billion in public colleges and universities. The vast majority of these resources nationwide are allocated among colleges based on the number of students who enroll, not the number who earn degrees or what they learn. President Obama’s plan will connect student aid to outcomes, which will in turn drive a better, more affordable education for all students:

Tie Financial Aid to College Value: To identify colleges for providing the best value and encourage all colleges to improve, President Obama is directing the Department of Education to develop and publish a new college ratings system that would be available for students and families before the 2015 college year. In the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the President will seek legislation allocating financial aid based upon these college ratings by 2018, once the ratings system is well established. Students can continue to choose whichever college they want, but taxpayer dollars will be steered toward high-performing colleges that provide the best value.  

  • New College Ratings before 2015. Before the 2015 school year, the Department of Education will develop a new ratings system to help students compare the value offered by colleges and encourage colleges to improve. These ratings will compare colleges with similar missions and identify colleges that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as colleges that are improving their performance. The results will be published on the College Scorecard. The Department will develop these ratings through public hearings around the country to gather the input of students and parents, state leaders, college presidents, and others with ideas on how to publish excellent ratings that put a fundamental premium on measuring value and ensure that access for those with economic or other disadvantages are encouraged, not discouraged. The ratings will be based upon such measures as:
    • Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants;
    • Affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and
    • Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates.

  • Base Student Aid on College Value by 2018. Over the next four years, the Department of Education will refine these measurements, while colleges have an opportunity to improve their performance and ratings. The Administration will seek legislation using this new rating system to transform the way federal aid is awarded to colleges once the ratings are well developed. Students attending high-performing colleges could receive larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans.

Engage States with a Race to the Top for Higher Education that Has Higher Value and Lower Costs: The President requested $1 billion in Race to the Top funding to spur state higher education reforms and reshape the federal-state partnership by ensuring that states maintain funding for public higher education. About three-quarters of college students attend a community college or public university, and declining state funding has been the biggest reason for rising tuition at public institutions. The Race to the Top competition will have a special focus on promoting paying for value as opposed to enrollment or just seat time. States typically fund colleges based on enrollment rather than on their success at graduating students or other measures of the value they offer. There are notable exceptions, like Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio, which fund colleges based on performance. To build on their examples, the President’s plan would also encourage states to provide accelerated learning opportunities, smooth the transition from high school to college and between two- and four-year colleges, and strengthen collaboration between high schools and colleges.  

Reward Colleges for Results with a Pell Bonus and Higher Accountability:
To encourage colleges to enroll and graduate low- and moderate-income students, the President will propose legislation to give colleges a bonus based upon the number of Pell students they graduate. And the Administration will prevent the waste of Pell dollars by requiring colleges with high dropout rates to disburse student aid over the course of the semester as students face expenses, rather than in a lump sum at the beginning of the semester, so students who drop out do not receive Pell Grants for time they are not in school.  

Demand Student Responsibility for Academic Performance: There are projected to be about 279,000 Pell Grant recipients and 439,300 undergraduate federal student loan borrowers in Pennsylvania in the 2013-14 school year. To ensure students are making progress toward their degrees, the President will also propose legislation strengthening academic progress requirements of student aid programs, such as requiring students to complete a certain percentage of their classes before receiving continued funding. These changes would encourage students to complete their studies on time, thereby reducing their debt, and will be designed to ensure that disadvantaged students have every opportunity to succeed.  

Promote Innovation and Competition

A rising tide of innovation has the potential to shake up the higher education landscape. Promising approaches include three-year accelerated degrees, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and “flipped” or “hybrid” classrooms where students watch lectures at home and online and faculty challenge them to solve problems and deepen their knowledge in class. Some of these approaches are still being developed, and too few students are seeing their benefits. The federal government can act as a catalyst for innovation, spurring innovation in a way that drives down costs while preserving quality.  

To promote innovation and competition in the higher education marketplace, the President’s plan will publish better information on how colleges are performing, help demonstrate that new approaches can improve learning and reduce costs, and offer colleges regulatory flexibility to innovate. And the President is challenging colleges and other higher education leaders to adopt one or more of these promising practices that we know offer breakthroughs on cost, quality, or both — or create something better themselves:  

Award Credits Based on Learning, not Seat Time. Western Governors University is a competency-based online university serving more than 20,000 students with relatively low costs — about $6,000 per year for most degrees with an average time to a bachelor’s degree of only 30 months. A number of other institutions have also established competency-based programs, including Southern New Hampshire University and the University of Wisconsin system.

Use Technology to Redesign Courses. Redesigned courses that integrate online platforms (like MOOCs) or blend in-person and online experiences can accelerate the pace of student learning. The National Center for Academic Transformation has shown the effectiveness of the thoughtful use of technology across a wide range of academic disciplines, improving learning outcomes for students while reducing costs by nearly 40 percent on average. Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative has developed a hybrid statistics course used at six public universities, and its students performed as well as their peers in a traditional course in only 75 percent of the time. Arizona State University’s interactive algebra lessons helped students perform 10 percent better, despite meeting half as often, and at a lower cost. The University of Maryland redesigned an introductory psychology course, reducing costs by 70 percent while raising pass rates. New York’s Open SUNY initiative brings together every online program offered system-wide, helping students complete more quickly.

Use Technology for Student Services. Online learning communities and e-advising tools encourage persistence and alert instructors when additional help is needed. Technology is enabling students from across campuses and across the world to collaborate through online study groups and in-person meet-ups. MOOC-provider Coursera has online forums in which the median response time for questions posed by students is 22 minutes. To help students choose the courses that will allow them to earn a degree as quickly as possible, Austin Peay State University has developed the “Degree Compass” system that draws on the past performance of students in thousands of classes to guide a student through a course, in a similar manner to the way Netflix or Pandora draw on users’ past experience to guide movie or music choices.  

Recognize Prior Learning and Promote Dual Enrollment. Colleges can also award credit for prior learning experiences, similar to current Administration efforts to recognize the skills of returning veterans. Dual-enrollment opportunities let high school students earn credits before arriving at college, which can save them money by accelerating their time to degree.

To help colleges innovate and improve quality and outcomes, the Administration will:

Empower Students with Information: New college ratings will help students compare the value offered by different colleges. The Department of Education will enlist entrepreneurs and technology leaders with a “Datapalooza” to catalyze new private-sector tools, services, and apps to help students evaluate and select colleges. The effort will be complemented by earnings information by college that will be released for the first time on Administration’s College Scorecard this fall.

Seed Innovation and Measure What Works: To demonstrate what works, President Obama has proposed a new $260 million First in the World fund to test and evaluate innovative approaches to higher education that yield dramatically better outcomes, and to develop new ways for colleges to demonstrate that they are helping their students learn. In addition, the Department of Labor is planning to grant an additional $500 million to community colleges and eligible four-year colleges and universities next year. A portion of these resources will be used to promote accelerated degree paths and credentials that would drive more high-quality and affordable options for adult workers and students. Through these efforts, the Administration will work with business and philanthropy to support industry partnerships to enrich student learning with valuable job exploration and experience.  

Reduce Regulatory Barriers: The Department will use its authority to issue regulatory waivers for “experimental sites” that promote high-quality, low-cost innovations in higher education, such as making it possible for students to get financial aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class. Pilot opportunities could include enabling colleges to offer Pell grants to high school students taking college courses, allowing federal financial aid to be used to pay test fees when students seek academic credit for prior learning, and combining traditional and competency-based courses into a single program of study. The Department will also support efforts to remove state regulatory barriers to distance education.

Finally, the President will challenge leaders in states, philanthropy, and the private sector to make their own commitments to improve college value while reducing costs. For example, states can redesign the transition to postsecondary education and commit to strategies to improve student learning and enhance student advising, such as hybrid learning pilots, adaptive learning platforms, and digital tutors. Philanthropists can create initiatives, pilots and prizes for colleges that advance competency-based education, accelerated degrees, and the integration of new technologies into on-campus teaching and learning. Investors and entrepreneurs can directly support and develop new technologies and innovations that accelerate student learning while evaluating the effectiveness of different approaches. And employers and industry groups can collaborate with postsecondary institutions and new providers to develop high-quality, low-cost degrees in growing sectors of the economy, offer work-based learning experiences to students, and hire graduates who demonstrate the knowledge and skills employers need.

Ensure Student Debt Is Affordable

In Pennsylvania, about 1,885,600 student loan borrowers owe an outstanding total debt of more than $42,031,000,000. While bringing down costs for current and future college students, President Obama will also help students with existing debt to manage their obligations.

Income-driven repayment plans allow borrowers to take responsibility for their federal student loan debt with more flexible repayment terms, while helping professionals like teachers and nurses who take on critical jobs in our society that require significant education but may result in modest salaries. These plans allow students to fully repay their student debt on a sliding scale that adjusts monthly payments based on changing income and growing families. Nearly two-thirds of people that currently participate in the income-driven repayment plans make less than $60,000 a year. Currently, about 2 million of 37 million federal student loan borrowers are benefitting from income-driven plans.

Make All Borrowers Eligible for Pay As You Earn: To make sure that students and families have an easy-to-understand insurance policy against unmanageable debt now and in the future, the President has proposed allowing all student borrowers to cap their federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly income. Currently, students who first borrowed before 2008 or have not borrowed since 2011 are not eligible for the President’s Pay As You Earn plan. In addition, the Administration will work with Congress to ensure that the benefits are targeted to the neediest borrowers.

Launching an Enrollment Campaign for Pay As You Earn: Beginning this fall, the Department of Education will contact borrowers who have fallen behind on their student loan payments, undergraduate borrowers with higher-than-average debts, and borrowers in deferment or forbearance because of financial hardship or unemployment to ensure they have the information they need to choose the right repayment option for them. Starting in 2014, the Department of Education and the Department of Treasury will work to help borrowers learn about and enroll in Pay As You Earn and Income-Based Repayment plans when they file their taxes. And to assist guidance counselors and other advisers who guide students through the process of selecting and financing their higher education, the Administration will launch a “one-stop shop” that will include important resources for choosing among various income-driven repayment options.    

Instead of Just Making College Affordable, Make It Free

U.S. Unemployment Rate, 25 years and over:
July 2013 data:

Less than a high school diploma 11.0%
High school graduate, no college 7.6%
Some college or associate degree 6.0%
Bachelor’s degree and higher 3.8%

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job which pays a decent salary without a college education. Nevertheless, the cost of a college education is increasing exponentially, far outstripping inflation and typical salaries.

About one-third of college students receive subsidized Federal loans. The rate on these loans was fixed in 2007 at 3.4%. Last month, Congress let this rate expire, which caused the rate on new student loans to suddenly double to 6.8%, bringing a college education out of the reach of most students.

A life of privilege should not be the birthright of the privileged few, passed on from generation to generation like the titles of nobility, which we Americans have wisely forsaken (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8).

The outrage expressed by students, their parents, and all those concerned with the future of America’s highly educated workforce was heard in the halls of Congress. Last Friday, President Obama signed a compromise bill to lower interest rates. According to Cecilia Munoz, “Under the new law, nearly 11 million borrowers will see their interest rates decrease on new loans made after July 1, 2013. About 8.8 million undergraduate borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 6.80% to 3.86%, and about 1.5 million Graduate Unsubsidized Stafford borrowers will see their rates drop on new loans from 6.80% to 5.41%. Finally, over 1 million Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS borrowers will see their rates on new loans drop from 7.90% to 6.41% — the first reduction in years.” (Since these rates are based on the bond market, The Washington Post notes that “as the economy improves in the coming years, as it is expected to, those interest rates will likely climb and could soon be higher than current rates, unless Congress again acts.”)

Undergraduates may be breathing a sigh of relief as they prepare to go back to school this fall, but still their education will end up more expensive than ever, before putting college out of reach of more and more of America’s youth.

Will this satisfy the many voices that have been clamoring for the government to make education more affordable?

Yet, others are advancing toward a more ambitious objective: making higher education not just affordable, but free.

Three ideas for free tuition follow the jump.
Pay it forward, pay it back

Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) writes about the legislation he and State Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) are introducing in Harrisburg:

I will be introducing a landmark bill in the Pennsylvania Senate to make college affordable for every Pennsylvanian.

Growing up, my mom and I didn’t have much, and it was only because of programs like Pell Grants that I was able to go to Temple University for college. Since I graduated, tuition has risen astronomically, and state and federal financial assistance hasn’t been able to keep up. If I was finishing high school today, I would not be able to afford to go to Temple without taking on a mountain of debt.

That is why I will be introducing the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to make state, and state-related universities (like Temple) affordable for every student by letting them attend college with no money down and without paying high interest rates.

The way that it works is simple: we will create a fund from which students can draw funds to pay their tuition. After graduating and joining the workforce, students will “Pay Back” into the fund, interest free, through a small percentage — around 4% — of their income.  

The plan will eventually become self-sustaining, but until it does, we will use seed funding from a competitive, temporary tax on natural gas extraction.

Once this bill is signed into law, Pennsylvania will be one of the the nation’s leaders in affordable college education and every student will have the same opportunities that I did.

Boyle adds:

With Pennsylvania’s college graduates shouldering the second highest level of student loan debt in the country, the need to take a hard look at our existing system of funding higher education is urgent. This legislation would initiate the process of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the Pay It Forward model.

There are currently a handful of states that are considering or have passed similar legislation, including Oregon, which last month passed legislation that Boyle credits as the impetus behind their proposal:

I think the number of states that have expressed interest in this model demonstrates that the traditional way of financing public higher education is fundamentally broken and that there is a strong demand for new ideas. The Oregon bill offers an excellent template for how such a game changing proposal should be approached. Given that this plan would likely require an investment of tens of billions of dollars before becoming solvent, carefully examining the merits and cost of Pay It Forward on an objective and nonpartisan basis will provide insight into whether such a program is feasible in Pennsylvania.

A similar idea is being considered in California, where grantees would commit to paying 5% of their salary for the next 20 years.

This idea is not a Utopian, liberal, “pay what you can” dream. According to the journal Inside Higher Ed, the “concept was thought up, independently, by two Nobel winners in economics, Milton Friedman [noted Libertarian thinker] and James Tobin.”

Posse Scholars

Many promising students do not fulfill their potential, because they do not have the necessary support networks to guide them in their education. For that reason, the Posse Foundation steps into the breech and identifies at-risk youth “with extraordinary academic and leadership potential” while they are still in high school, organizing them into teams (or “posses”) of ten students.

The students in any posse are responsible for each other, support each other in their studies, and help each other stay out of trouble. The Posse Foundation’s university partners have committed to giving full scholarships each year to an entire posse, based on the posse’s total scores, grades, etc.

Knowing that they will earn this scholarship, or fail to do so, as a group, each posse is a team with a common goal to shoot for, and the raw talent to succeed. Since 1989, 4,884 public school student have succeeded as posse scholars. The posse continues to function when in the university of their choice and even beyond, as an invaluable, tried-and-tested support network for these talented youth, who may be the first children in their families to benefit from higher education.

President Obama has seen the value of the Posse Foundation’s work, and accordingly donated all of his $1,400,000 in Nobel Peace Prize money to the Posse Foundation, and 10 other charitable causes:  

The news that Posse will receive a generous gift of $125,000 came via a White House announcement.

“These organizations do extraordinary work in the United States and abroad helping students, veterans and countless others in need,” said President Obama. “I’m proud to support their work.”

The other nine organizations who will receive donations ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 are: AfriCare, the American Indian College Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the Central Asia Institute, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, College Summit, Fisher House, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

“On behalf of the entire Posse Foundation, I thank President Obama for this incredible acknowledgment and support”, says Posse President and Founder Deborah Bial. “For 20 years, Posse has been finding outstanding young people and connecting them to the great education they so deserve. The president’s support is more than financial; it is a message to the country that these young people are not only important, but needed as leaders. We are beyond thrilled.”

Loan Forgiveness

Another way students attend school for free is by committing to public service. Instead of giving back a small percentage of their salary for decades, they devote themselves to service for a shorter period of time. For example, the United States Armed Services will pay for students to attend medical school, if they agree to serve as a medic in the military for an equal number of years. Each year of free medical school equals one year of required service:

When you’re pursuing an advanced health care degree, the last thing on your mind should be how you’re going to pay for it. The U.S. Army can help with one of the most comprehensive scholarships available in the health care field — The F. Edward Hébert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program. Qualifying students receive full tuition for any accredited medical, dental, veterinary, psychology or optometry program, plus a generous monthly stipend of more than $2,000.

In fact, during summer break, the students receive officer’s salary while they get their military training.

Similar programs exist to encourage doctors to work for a few years in under-served rural communities, or for student to train (or engineers to retrain themselves) to teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics in poor urban neighborhoods.

These ideas may put higher education into everyone’s reach, and conversely, put everyone’s talents into the reach of society.

Race and Children’s Literature

— by Hannah Lee

Do you remember the joy of finding a book that reflected your life, your family? As an immigrant living on the Lower East Side, I learned about American ways through the Girl Scout manual, and was puzzled by the young adult stories of Beverly Cleary, who wrote about teenage boys who played football, and girls who rallied them with cheers in formation. By the time I became a mother, books about Asian-American families had become available, and I still happily collect them.

Back in the mid-20th century, book publishers were not interested in reaching a wider audience beyond the mainstream culture. Ezra Jack Keats was a pioneer, who convinced Viking Press to allow depiction of a black boy, Peter, in his 1962 book, The Snowy Day. He also broke new literary ground in portraying an urban setting and using collage to illustrate his text. The book won the 1963 Caldecott Award for “most distinguished American picture book for children.”

More after the jump.
Born in 1916 to Polish Jewish immigrants, Keats grew up poor in East New York, Brooklyn. His father discouraged his interest in writing, while simultaneously supporting his talent with tubes of paint. Keats changed his name from Jack Ezra Katz in 1947 in reaction to the Antisemitism in the country.

The reaction to The Snowy Day ranged from outrage for that Keats was not himself black to gratitude for expanding the racial profile of the book world. The poet and leader of the “Harlem Renaissance,” Langston Hughes, praised it as “a perfectly charming little book.” The writer Sherman Alexie read it as a child on an Indian reservation in the 1970s and reminisced:

It was the first time I looked at a book and saw a brown, black, beige character — a character who resembled me physically and spiritually in all his gorgeous loneliness and splendid isolation.

This summer we are treated with overlapping exhibits in our city’s institutions, with The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats at the National Museum of American Jewish History, a retrospective collection of the work of Jerry Pinkney at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a companion exhibit on Pinkney’s body of work at the Free Library on Vine Street.

A native son of Germantown born in 1939, Pinkney struggled with dyslexia, but he soared through his talent in drawing. Whereas Keats’ black characters could have been anybody, Pinkey’s artwork explicitly incorporates African-American motifs. He won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for his illustration of The Lion & the Mouse, a version of Aesop’s fable that he also wrote. He also has five Caldecott Honors, among other awards. One of my favorite of his works is of Goin’ Someplace Special, written by Patricia McKissack. Set in the late 1950s in Nashville, it is about a time and place where the library was one of the few places that disregarded the segregationist Jim Crow laws and treated blacks with respect.

Books may not lead social movements, but they have lasting impacts in supporting individuals who live outside the mainstream. You are no longer fringe when there are books that reflect your life.

1st Children’s Aliyah Flight Arrives: Record 106 Children Aboard

— by Rebecca (Langer) Modell

Gilad Shalit accompanied the 231 North American Olima board this summer’s first charter Aliyah flight including Nefesh b’Nefesh’s 35,000th Oleh

El-Al flight 3004 landed Monday morning at Ben Gurion Airport with 231 new Israeli citizens aboard. Even before they took off, the passengers knew not to expect getting any sleep, as close to 50% of the occupants were children. This is a new record of children arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in cooperation with The Jewish Agency for Israel. The 106 young Olim are joining a whopping 989 children who will be making Aliyah throughout 2013 with Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth L’Israel and JNF. This is an increase of 20%, compared to 822 children that made Aliyah in 2012.

In anticipation of the arrival, Nefesh B’Nefesh prepared reinforcements to help the parents watch over their children and keep them occupied during the long flight and at the arrival ceremony. Amongst the activities that awaited the children were Aliyah coloring books, games and custom-made t-shirts. Former Israeli IDF captive, Gilad Shalit, also joined the flight as a show of support and appreciation for the thousands of North American Olim who are fulfilling their dream to return to Israel and their contribution to the State of Israel.

Also on board were 41 families, including the 106 children as well as 54 singles — 13 of whom will be joining the IDF. Also of note were the 41 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs.

Kindertransport 1938-1940

The Children’s Aliyah Flight reminds us for the story of the Kindertransport which saved “some ten thousand Jewish children out of Nazi Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the free city of Danzig nine month prior to the outbreak of World War II. For the most part, the children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, and farms. One of those children, fourteen-year-old Viennese native Renee Perl, was destined to become the mother of congressional representative Allyson Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania.”
(Source:The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members)

The Co-Founder and Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Tony Gelbart said:

As we welcome our 35,000th Oleh, it is exciting to see so many children amongst the Zionistic modern day pioneers who are helping to build and secure the future of the State of Israel. This new generation is joining young adults volunteering for the IDF and Olim moving to Israel’s North and South to help strengthen the periphery, to infuse the country with renewed passion and idealism.

The Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said:

I am happy to welcome over 100 children who are making Aliyah today through Nefesh B’Nefesh and joining us here in Israel. Aliyah from North America is extremely important and makes us stronger as a nation.

The Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky said:

The Jewish Agency, which brings tens of thousands of Olim from across the globe sees Nefesh B’Nefesh as a dedicated partner in this important work.  The children and their parents who are arriving on this Olim flight from North America represent the future of Israel and every one of them strengthens Israeli society.

Hundreds of families and friends as well as Israeli dignitaries gathered at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome the country’s newest citizens at the arrival ceremony.

Those present included:

  • Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver;
  • Member of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs MK Dov Lipman;
  • Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky;
  • World Chairman of KKL-JNF, Effie Stenzler;
  • Vice President Global Sales of El Al, Offer Gat;
  • Vice Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh Erez Halfon and
  • Co-Founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass & Tony Gelbart.

Photo credit: Shafar Azran and Peter Hamalgyi.

About Nefesh B’Nefesh: Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its over 35,000 newcomers, has ensured that 97% of its Olim have remained in Israel.