the notebook
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Anne Michaud: editor & senior writer
Anne Michaud

Don’t let kids lose their smarts in summer

June 30th, 2016

Two young children are reading books together outside in a teepee tent for a education or learning concept.It’s that time of year again. School’s out, and summer stretches before us.

My parents would have said, go out and play. But we’re living in an age when parents are more hands-on,
for many reasons: anxiety about getting into college and earning a break on the sky-high cost; unpredictable economic storms, insecure jobs, stagnant wages that create a slippery slide down and out of the comfortable middle class.

As a result, families are more concerned that these weeks of summer include some learning. For people with time and money, summer promises specialty camps, out-of-town vacations, lessons and trips to museums and concerts.

But summer learning loss – the idea that students lose ground academically when they don’t engage in educational activities during the break – is particularly acute for children in families with lesser means.

Sociologists at Johns Hopkins University demonstrated this by tracking 800 Baltimore students over two decades. They found that better-off kids retained more over summer break because they were involved in stimulating activities, even if they had very little to do with a textbook and a No. 2 pencil. In fact, by ninth grade, summer learning loss was responsible for two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income students and their better-off peers.

In recognition of this finding, places from St. Louis to Teton County, Wyoming, have started affordable, educational summer programs for low-income families. More »

Who did this killer hate, and why?

June 16th, 2016

Orlando shooting 1This is a sad truth of our time: As a society, we have developed a series of rituals after mass shootings. One is playing out now. It’s called name the enemy.

Since the tragic massacre in Orlando this weekend, at Latin night in the LGBT club Pulse, some of our leaders have been stepping up to podiums and taking to Twitter to say why this carnage occurred. Who did Omar Mateen hate, and why?
Naming the enemy is a necessary process. It allows us to post extra police details at certain New York clubs and neighborhoods, as the New York City Police Department has done. But we must approach this naming with care and be on the lookout for how our leaders use the ritual, because reality is usually more complex than the initial picture. More »

More generations living under one roof — and liking it

June 3rd, 2016

grandfather and grandson having fun on their homesteadIf you need any further evidence that the American family is in the throes of change, and no longer a Norman Rockwell portrait of the nuclear nest, check out this finding from the respected Pew Research Center: For the first time in 130 years, more people age 18 to 34 are living with their parents than with a partner in their own households.

Slightly more than 32 percent of millennials lived in their parents’ home in 2014, according to the analysis published last week and based on U.S. census data. There’s also been a dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who choose to settle down romantically before age 35, writes Pew’s Richard Fry. Marriage is declining in general, and people are marrying later.

The living-at-home numbers haven’t been so high since the 1940s Depression-era peak of about 35 percent, Pew said, which suggests that the reasons are economic. Then, they had the Great Depression. Now, we had the Great Recession. Many young people still can’t find jobs, middle-class wages have declined for decades, and housing prices remain out of reach on most single salaries. More »

Could this course from the mental health community apply to addiction?

May 19th, 2016

overdose pillsJoyce Burland recalls, during one of her first meetings for families of mentally ill people, seeing a silver-haired couple who looked serene. They had twin sons, both with schizophrenia, and had been grappling with that reality for about 60 years.

The couple hadn’t abandoned their sons, and they were very much involved in their lives. Burland, whose 30-something sister with five children had recently become delusional – “it was a mess,” Burland said – wondered how she could achieve anything approaching serenity. She remembers the sight of that couple as “a guiding moment.”

A clinical psychologist, Burland would go on to write a 12-week course for families of people with mental illness, which is used across the United States, and in Mexico and Italy. Her course, called Family-To-Family or F2F, is intended to move people from panic and struggle to living in relative peace with a long-term, debilitating illness.

“Our job is to move the illness to a factor in families’ lives, not the only fact, so they can live with joy and spontaneity while undertaking a really long job,” said Burland, who is now the national director of the Education, Training and Peer Education Support Center for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The organization advocates for individuals and families affected by mental illness.

The success of Burland’s program, which has served about 375,000 people since its start in 1991, made me wonder whether it could help people living with another arduous, life-long problem: addiction. Last year, 442 people died of opiate overdoses on Long Island – a record, up from 403 a year earlier. This is a battle we are losing to heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.

People in the anti-drug community on Long Island say they have support groups, but nothing as extensive as F2F. Burland agreed that her program could be useful for families coping with addiction – not as a replacement for something else, but as one more tool. More »

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