Tag Archives: education

Leading The Food Revolution

9 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today’s story starts with Megan, the 15-year-old daughter of my friend Michelle.

In many respects, Megan is a typical teenage girl. There are celebrities she loves and those she cannot bear the thought of. She enjoys going to the movies, has dreams about the future, and when the time comes, she would like to wear a pretty dress to her senior prom.

Except that if things don’t change for Megan soon, there may not be a senior prom. Because in order to go to senior prom, you have to go to high school. And Megan is too sick to go to school.

When Megan started experiencing severe dizziness a couple of years ago, her mom took her to a string of doctors who were not able to identify the cause. Even a week of tests in hospital did not reveal why this young girl was so off-kilter that she had to rely on a wheelchair.

The dizziness was not Megan’s only problem. She had a prolonged bout of respiratory illness, her periods were problematic from the very first day, and she became unable to sleep for more than two or three hours a night, in spite of being constantly exhausted.

Eventually, doctors were able to determine that Megan had Fatty Liver Disease. It became clear to her mom, Michelle, that poor nutritional choices had led to this outcome.

But Michelle, who has endured a lot of hardship in her life, is not one to be beaten down. Instead of simply accepting Megan’s condition, she decided to do something about it, not only for her own family, but for her entire community. She started by setting up a Facebook group for people suffering from Fatty Liver Disease.

Then she started making radical changes to her own and her daughter’s lifestyles.

While Michelle acknowledges her role in making less-than-ideal food choices for Megan, she points out that many parents simply do not understand the implications of the foods that they and their families consume. As a society, we are so caught-up in healthy-sounding labels like sugar-free this-thing or low-fat that-thing.

There is no denying the fact that food manufacturers hire very smart marketing companies who can successfully deceive entire segments of the population into believing that something is good for you when it’s actually leading you to an earlier grave.

Michelle decided that it was time for this to change, and so she has spearheaded the organization of an event in her community that will teach children and adults about healthy eating habits in a fun and engaging way. The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution Day is a global event being held in communities everywhere on Saturday, May 19th.

Michelle is organizing the event in London, Ontario. This day promises to provide entertainment and enlightenment for the whole family. Kids will enjoy such activities as making fruit or vegetable characters , while adults will learn how to make sense of those confusing nutrition labels and how to easily incorporate healthy eating into our busy lifestyles.

If you live anywhere near London, Ontario,  it is well worth attending this event. For details give Michelle a call at +1 226 234 4006.

And if you don’t live in London? Check out the Food Revolution website to see if there’s an event near you. It is going to be a global phenomenon on May 19th, with hundreds of public events and dinner parties in more than 300 cities worldwide.

Today’s children are the first generation who, on average, will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Michelle is determined to do what she can to turn the tide not only for Megan, but for other kids in the community.

Let’s all support the Food Revolution on May 19th. Together, we can truly change the world for our children.

(Photo credit: Denise Testa, JD Communication and Design)

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Bullying: Is There A Solution?

29 Feb

In the wake of Monday’s tragic school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, I find myself wondering why we as a society have so much trouble dealing with the problem of bullying. I asked this question on Facebook on Monday night, and more than one person accused me of blaming the victims.

I want to make it clear: I am not blaming the victims, nor am I condoning these acts of violence. I am merely making the point that in spite of the fact that bullying has been blamed for a number of tragedies over the last fifteen years or so, we have made little progress in addressing it.

It would be unfair for me to say that nothing has happened. I would be willing to bet that there were no formal anti-bullying policies in place when I was in high school. That at least has changed: it took me about fifteen seconds on Google to find my local school board’s policy. This does represent a start, even though the wording of the policy is frustratingly vague. It places the onus on schools to figure out ways in which bullying incidents can be reported and dealt with. When I called my son’s school to find out what their school-specific policy is, I got an expected but highly unsatisfactory answer: It depends on the circumstances. I also got the platitudes that schools think are sufficient for parents: We do not tolerate bullying in our school. We take this issue very seriously. Instigators of bullying are dealt with severely.

That’s all great, but what does it actually mean? We don’t need policies that are there primarily to make parents happy enough to sit down and shut up. We need action plans that are followed through on. Here are a few things that I would like to see in place:

  • Education sessions for parents that will teach them to recognize (a) that their child is being bullied, or (b) that their child is bullying.
  • Anti-bullying education in the curriculum for the kids. Right from the get-go, children need to be taught what their rights are and how they can ensure that they are being respected. They should also learn about what behaviours constitute bullying. While this is more intuitive for most older kids, young children may not recognize the potential harm of certain behaviours.
  • Support for the victims of bullying. They should have a way to report their experiences without fear of reprisal, and they should be assured that action will be taken. The onus should not be on them to “stand up to the bullies”.
  • Support for the instigators of bullying. These kids could have something going on in their lives that’s making them do what they do. They shouldn’t just be suspended from school and given a warning not to do it again. Steps should be taken to find out why they are doing it in the first place and what help can be provided to them.
  • Open lines of communication between students, teachers and parents. Teachers and parents should be working together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our kids, and our kids have to know that there is someone for them to go to when they need help.

Bullying is not a problem that can be solved by letting the kids sort it out. We cannot tell one person to stop doing something, or another person to retaliate. Bullying is a social problem that can only be solved by everyone involved working together in a constructive way, to do what is best for the kids.

10 IEP Survival Tips For Parents Of Children With Autism

25 Oct

If you want an autism parent to break out in an instant sweat, just mention the initials IEP. The Individual Education Plan, which is theoretically in place to help children with autism and their families, can instead be one of the biggest sources of frustration. The IEP process, during which the child’s educational goals for the upcoming year are formulated, is about as much fun as a root canal. It is also just as essential. Without an IEP, our special needs kids would be eaten alive by a school system designed to teach “typical” kids who can do “typical” things.

Putting together an effective IEP requires collaboration between the parents and the school, and differing viewpoints can lead to difficulty. The school views the child as one of a number of students requiring IEP’s. They want to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as they can: the less interaction they have to have with parents, the better. From my experience, teachers like to draw up the IEP, send it home for parental signatures, and be done with it.  Parents, of course, view their child as a unique individual. They want their child’s IEP to be given care and consideration. They don’t want a cookie-cutter IEP; they want a plan that reflects their child’s needs. After all, the “I” in IEP stands for “Individual”.

It doesn’t have to this frustrating. There are things parents can do to derive real value from the IEP process. Today I want to share with you some tips that I have learned over the years, both from my own experiences, and from other people who have been through the IEP wringer. If you have tips of your own, please feel free to add them in the comments section.

  1. Parents, educate yourselves. Find out the special ed laws in your area. Make sure you know what you as a parent are entitled to request on behalf of your child. Do research on the IEP process. If possible, try to get your hands on the IEP form if you haven’t already seen it. If you know what information the form calls for, you can be better prepared.
  2. This is not a battle – or at least, it shouldn’t be. No matter how frustrated you are, avoid approaching your child’s teacher in a confrontational manner. You are not on opposite sides of the table. You are members of the same team, working together for the benefit of your child. If you adopt a collaborative attitude, chances are that the teacher will do the same. At the end of the day, your child will derive a lot more benefit from a cohesive team than from a roomful of bickering people.
  3. There is another reason to play nice with your child’s teacher. The special ed community is fairly contained. There is a good possibility that the professional you are dealing with today will crop up in some other role in the special ed world at some point in the future. I’m not suggesting that you give in to what the teacher wants. I’m just saying, be nice. Treat all of the professionals you encounter with respect. Yelling at an uncooperative teacher may get you some short-term results, but it will also burn a bridge that you may need further down the line.
  4. Be realistic. Your child’s goals should be formulated with reference to where they are today. A child who has not yet learned how to count to twenty is probably not going to be able to add triple-digit numbers.
  5. Instead of requesting goals in absolute terms (“I want my child to be reading by the end of the year”), phrase them as an ongoing process (“The ability to read one- and two-syllable words, with a view to reading simple story-books.”)
  6. Remember that kids don’t necessarily do the same things at school that they do at home. My son’s teacher, who is with him for the third year in a row, sent home an IEP draft that included the goal for him to rote-count to 100. I was initially perplexed, because he’s been counting to 100 since he was four, but it came out that this is not a skill he has demonstrated at school. Conversely, he has shown more promise in interactive play at school than he does at home.
  7. Don’t be shy about writing comments on your child’s IEP. The IEP form does not allow a lot of space for comments – feel free to break out a separate sheet of paper, write your comments on that, and staple it to the form.
  8. As a parent, you have the option to meet with the teacher, or to just add your comments to the IEP and sign it. I strongly recommend that you meet with the teacher. Even if it’s the same teacher for the second or third year, the goals will have evolved, and it can be very difficult to keep things in context without a face-to-face meeting.
  9. If the IEP does not include a goal that you feel should be there, be persistent. You may need to compromise on the wording of the goal, but make sure it gets written into the IEP in some form.
  10. Remember that the IEP is not cast in concrete. We don’t have crystal balls, and we cannot always say that the plan we come up with in October will still be valid in, say, February. If a strategy or goal that was written into the IEP is not working, talk to your child’s teacher about modifying it.