Saturday, January 16, 2016

An Open Letter Regarding The Flint Water Crisis and the Children Affected

To Whom It May Concern:

I am deeply disturbed by the news regarding the Flint, Michigan water crisis. I have been reading about this a great deal. Articles abound regarding the high levels of lead in the tap water and some sources are alleging that a variety of officials were aware of this and took no action. The pictures of the water alone will move you. Google "Flint Water Crisis" and read from reliable sources. Article after article appears with pictures of the water and of those affected. A few of those links are listed here:
1. From CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/13/health/flint-michigan-water-crisis/
2. From NBC:http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michigan-prosecutor-opens-probe-flint-water-crisis-n497286
3. From the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/16/us/flint-water-michigan-attorney-general.html?_r=0

Exposure to high levels of lead can have a variety of effects on people, none of which happen to be good. Researchers at Virginia Tech conducted a study on the water crisis in Flint. Dr. Marc Edwards is the primary author of the following article that describes the timeline and inquiries that lead to the present state of affairs. Researchers began making their inquiries regarding lead levels far before now.
At some point, I look forward to the whole truth of this crisis coming out, but this article by Dr. Edwards is interesting to say the least: http://flintwaterstudy.org/2015/12/michigan-health-department-hid-evidence-of-health-harm-due-to-lead-contaminated-water-allowed-false-public-assurances-by-mdeq-and-stonewalled-outside-researchers/ Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital has a great article that details how lead poisoning can impact children titled, Neuropsychological Effects of Lead Poisoning on Child Development. You can read it by clicking on this link: http://www.mwph.org/programs/lead-treatment/effects

The following is an excerpt from the article on their site:

Checklist of Possible Neuropsychological Problems Associated with Lead
  • Delayed language or motor milestones (infant, toddler)
  • Poor speech articulation
  • Poor language understanding or usage
  • Problems maintaining attention in school or home
  • High activity level (hyperactivity)
  • Problems with learning and remembering new information
  • Rigid, inflexible problem-solving abilities
  • Delayed general intellectual abilities
  • Learning problems in school (reading, language, math, writing)
  • Problems controlling behavior (e.g., aggressive, impulsive)
  • Problems with fine or gross motor coordination
Real-World Outcomes of Lead Poisoning in Children
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Problems Paying Attention
  • Disorganized Approach to Learning
  • Poor Work Completion
  • Increased Risk to Drop Out
  • Communication Deficits
  • Impulsive, Hyperactive Behavior
  • Problems Sharing and Taking Turns
  • Increased Aggression
  • Increased Need for Adult Supervision
What Can Be Done?
  • Lead-safe housing
  • Education of public, medical and educational communities
  • Universal early identification
  • Lead-safe housing
  • Aggressive early medical treatment
  • Aggressive early behavioral treatment
  • Rehabilitation and special education services
  • Adequate nutrition

It is the law of our land that all are innocent until proven guilty, however I cannot help but think about this from the educator's perspective. Is this an isolated event? Could this be happening elsewhere? And if it is, do the victims even know it?

As I think about those affected by this, my heart breaks at the thought of the children in Flint who may have been exposed to or have high levels of lead in their bodies. They will all enter the classrooms of teachers who will be held accountable for their learning or lack there of, for their test scores, for their growth from the start to the end of a school year, etc. If the children have difficulty learning, they will be expected to find and use a multitude of academic interventions to change their learning trajectory. If they have difficulty behaving, they will be on the never ending search for a different set of rules, a different reward system, a more engaging strategy or methodology to increase their compliance so that they might learn at the rate required by district, state, and federal expectations. As teachers sit across the table from their principals to discuss their student learning outcomes, they will rack their brains thinking of what else they could have done, should have done, or need to do to improve test scores and increase student achievement. Their principals will do the same as they are held accountable for student achievement of students within their schools for all students. They will scratch their heads, attend conferences, read more, research more, and learn more so that next year's results will be improved and their jobs won't be jeopardized. While I don't presume to know the outcome of the future for the children of Flint, my heart goes out to those who will have the distinct opportunity to teach them. The children's struggle will become that of their teachers, as it happens for educators all over the land.

When we talk about holding educators accountable for student learning,we treat accountability as if it is a singular responsibility, especially if students don't learn at the rate and levels that we expect them too. I've yet to see an EPA official or health department official sitting at the table discussing test scores and explaining why student outcomes in learning are what they are or are not. The accountability table is a lonely one that only teachers and administrators seem to be invited to sit and chat. If the children of Flint have neuropsychological effects of lead poisoning that impact their learning, who will be held accountable? That is an important question that I, and others I am sure, anxiously await to be answered.

With love for the children, parents, and educators of the children of Flint,

Latoya
@latoyadixon5




Sunday, January 3, 2016

Balance-The Goal for 2016 and Beyond

We've all heard it before: Too much of anything is not good. Despite how healthy, how passionate, or how great a habit might be, a balanced life is one well lived and enjoyed. Balance gives us an even footing. Living and working in a balanced fashion gives us the best of both worlds and an opportunity to not sacrifice one aspect of life for another. As we enter 2016, I've reflected on what is most important to me at this stage in my life, and that is balance. I want to live a balanced life. I desire to not allow one thing to take precedence over another, but to live and work in a way that is balanced and harmonious. So I guess my one word for 2016 is balance. How will I improve this in my life? Well, below are a few thoughts.

 I recently took a 30 day hiatus from Twitter, Instagram, and all social media-including this blog. What I found astonished me. I was more present in my conversations with family and friends. There was not a feeling of being less informed as I had initially thought. In fact, I was less stressed, my thoughts were clearer and my reality less interrupted by the latest tweet. I was present and I liked it a lot. I'm trying to decide how I might utilize social media in a more balanced fashion instead of just reading Twitter at the first instance of downtime. I'm thinking of creating a set time to review Twitter but not an everyday, throughout the day routine anymore. I want to be present in my reality as much as possible and to do that I can't share all my "moments" with Twitter. I also placed an automatic reply on my email which helped immensely. In a world where everything has the potential to be  convenient and quickly addressed, we find ourselves so committed to being available to everyone else that we aren't available to ourselves, our families, or our friends. While I understand the necessity of communication, I will work to be more balanced which might mean not being available 24/7. In all reality, who can be present to everyone and everything all the time? When we commit to doing so, we inadvertently make ourselves unavailable to someone or some thing. There has to be a better way.

I began running and exercising on a more routine basis this past June. As my workouts became more routine, I noticed a greater spiritual and physical balance. I saw my anxiety reduced, stress decreased, and overall mood and attitude improved. On top of it, I lost a few pounds. While I don't desire to become obsessive about excercising, I want it to become a part of the balance in my life. This year I plan to make working out a routine part of my balanced life because it is good for me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I also have high hopes of eating a more balanced diet. Being a principal makes that difficult. Long hours and late nights can make a drive thru attractive and seem necessary. I'm going to do my best to make good choices about what I eat all the time for the sake of balance.

I'm also going to take the time to enjoy things outside of work. While I enjoy working very much, the social aspect of our lives are often what gets us through the tough times of life. When I began working on my doctorate in 2009, I became a principal by day and student by nights and weekends. Now two years after I've completed my degree, I find myself catching up with dear friends who I've seen minimally because of work or school. That's going to change. If life is about relationships, which I so deeply believe, I've got some work to do to maintain and grow some of the dearest friendships I've made this side of heaven. I realized recently that my best friends since my freshman year at Clemson will celebrate our 21st year of friendship in August. We're all busy with work and life, but that deserves celebrating. So we are making plans for a celebration, and I will be present sans Twitter, email, etc. so that I don't miss the moment.

Until Next Time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
Latoya
@latoyadixon5

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Holidays & Students of Poverty: Tips for Today's Educators

This morning as I was eating breakfast and watching the news, I began thinking about the holidays. I thought about how much I am looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my family. I cannot wait to eat some of my momma's classics: dressing (I'm from the South.), sweet potato pie, macaroni and cheese and more. To top it off, my momma is a great cook. I'll be running extra miles for sure, but we will laugh, eat, and enjoy each other's company. As I reflected on this I began to flashback to the holidays as a child. One word came to mind: stressful. I began to think about the stress of the holidays and how they affect our children of poverty in our schools.

As educators, we need to be reminded that the holidays aren't happy for everyone. For some, it isone of the most stressful times of life. For our students, it can be a high stress time and as educators we need to approach our work with an additional awareness and sensitivity than we routinely use.

Without thinking, I fired off a series of tweets that captured my heartfelt thoughts. Follow my time line @latoyadixon5 and follow the #povertymatters hashtag to see more. For this blog post, I will share these important thoughts for educators to remember as we approach the holiday season, especially for those of you who work in schools with high concentrations of poverty. See below:

1. Just a little reminder to my PLN: The holidays can be an extremely stressful time for students of poverty.

2. Listening to your parent(s) talk about the struggle and stress of the holidays can be emotionally taxing. #povertymatters

3.Students of poverty are often burdened with adult worries. A parent's burden becomes the burden of all. #povertymatters

4. While meaning well, parents don't always understand the implications of burden sharing with kids.

5. Ss with a high stress response system are often most vulnerable near the holidays, which usually also happen to be near break.

This may have been the most important tweet of all because this is often what activates a fear or stress response:

6. The routine and predictability of a school day is absent during the break. No guaranteed food, heat, or safety.

7. Understanding poverty and its effects can be challenging if you've never experienced it. Experience is the best teacher. #povertymatters

8. While we can't all have the experience of being poor, we can educate ourselves to resist our unconscious insensitivity. #povertymatters

9. When we ask questions like, Are you excited for Thanksgiving?, we shouldn't be surprised if we get a no. Shame leads us to yes. #povertymatters
10. There's nothing worse than watching your classmates give presents to the teacher when you know you have nothing to give (personal experience)

11. Don't assume that the kids who don't bring you a gift don't love you as their teacher. I loved Mrs. West, but I never got to give her a gift. (Side note: Mrs. West was my beloved third grade teacher who turned me into the writer I am-she saw my gift first and pointed it out to me!)

12. I'd venture to say my gift to her was my life story of how she made a difference for me. Better than any trinket, card, etc.

13. As educators, we have to be sure our own experiences don't make us unconscious to the experiences of others. #povertymatters

14. Sometimes with the best intentions we demonstrate a lack of understanding of kids of poverty. #povertymatters

15. When thinking about Ss of poverty, don't rely on your experience to lead you if you've never been poor. Try to think from their perspective. (This is much harder than it seems.)

A holiday never goes by without me thinking of how it is affecting students of poverty. My passion for helping students of poverty comes from an authentic place. I've been poor and I've experienced that stress. Experiencing poverty, for me, is not different from any other traumatic experience. It never leaves you. You always have that thought in the back of your mind that you could be back where you started in an instant. You don't live a life of certainty, because you know from experience that nothing is certain, especially when it comes to money. As my older sister would say, it is just a tool for living.

Being a student of poverty comes with a tremendous amount of shame. While some are fooled or misguided by an occasional pair of nice sneakers, I am not. I know that often those were purchased in the barbershop, beauty salon, or flea market. If you can't relate to the aforementioned statement, then consider yourself misguided and find someone who can explain it to you so that you have a better understanding. It is so much easier to refuse than to try to explain to someone that your project is not done because of all the costly requirements. It is especially easier to just take the easy way out and refuse, if you are ashamed and don't think your teacher would understand anyway or chalk it up as an excuse. I'm always weary of those who say some students use poverty as an excuse-when you have nowhere to bathe, or live, or nothing to eat-how is that an excuse? Maybe I missed something, but I don't think so. Your school work becomes secondary when surviving is primary.

So as the holidays approach, I am asking that you approach your work with a level of consciousness required to help students of poverty survive the stress of the holidays. So to all the educators out there, remember the holidays aren't happy for everyone. Sympathy towards students of poverty doesn't help, but sensitivity does. Fight your unconscious intentions that lack understanding. Read between the lines because there are no students lining up to say, I'm extremely stressed out right now. My heart overflows at this time of the year. No matter what I accomplish in my life, I'll never forget the struggle that my sisters & I had to experience to get to where we are today.

Remember-our students need us to be sensitive to their needs during this time. Give the gift of compassion and understanding. It will last a lot longer than any material gift you receive.

Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!

-Latoya
@latoyadixon5