UB – the University at Buffalo – as a Sexist Institution (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I first entered the University at Buffalo as an undergraduate student in 1989, I felt included. For me, as a woman, it is important to me to feel and be a part of any group or institution that truly “includes” women, both appreciating and respecting women. The atmosphere that is present at UB today, in 2014, however, has changed. UB has become a sexist institution that promotes a perspective and images that make men the priority. Women’s concerns and interests have taken a backseat to those of men, sometimes being entirely excluded. What happened?

The University at Buffalo (UB) is one of the four university centers within the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Being born and raised in Western New York State, I was aware of UB as an institution that was prestigious, with a reputation for educational excellence. As a high school senior, I was accepted at all of the eight or ten colleges and universities to which I applied. UB was actually my second choice behind Ithaca College, though I chose to attend UB because of the lesser cost, closer proximity to home, and excellent reputation as a research institution. I had been interested in pursuing a medically-related career at that time, and I am an individual who gets much enjoyment from completing research, so UB seemed the perfect place for me to go after high school.

After arriving at UB, I quickly gained the feeling that it was a place in which I could soar, and I was correct. In my first year there, I became a member of several student organizations in which I was interested; studied a science-related curriculum to prepare for a medical career; worked part-time in my dormitory complex; was active in the university wind ensemble and chorus; and was a member of both the indoor and outdoor women’s track and field teams. I was not, nor have ever been a “partier;” and I never put on the “freshman 15.” In fact, I became more busy and active at UB, getting into better shape, and structuring my life and managing my time so that I would be as successful as possible. While doing this, I also met new people, made new friends, tried out different avenues of interests and enjoyment, and stayed as focused on my studies as possible.

As a member of the women’s track and field team at UB, I was one of the Royals. The men were the Bulls, and the women were the Royals. My specialty areas were in field events, including shot put, discus, and javelin. In my last two years of high school, I was recognized as one of the top competitors in shot put and discus throughout Western New York State. While I also competed in nearly every other event throughout the six years that I was a member of my varsity high school team, those two were my top events. As a Royal, I was a proud member of the women’s team at UB. Today, women’s sports teams are only known as Bulls, a masculine term that excludes, overlooks, and denies the “femaleness” of women. As such and in the manner that it is used at UB, the term ‘Bulls’ has become a sexist word that excludes women, and in turn, prioritizes only the gender, concerns, and interests of men.

Throughout most of my time spent at UB as an undergraduate, I was also a member of the university’s pep band. The Pep Band was a group that played songs during men’s home football and basketball games to liven up the crowd. The Pep Band also played at one away football game per semester. In my schooling prior to attending UB, I had been a member of the band and marching band for eight years. Included as a requirement for being a band member in high school was participating in both the marching band and pep band. Therefore, while UB did not have a marching band at that time, I was quite familiar with what was expected and required of musicians, whether they were extremely serious or playing just for fun. The Pep Band provided an outlet for students to play their instruments socially and recreationally.

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

At UB today, there is the Thunder of the East Marching Band. The main logo that promotes the image of the group reflects a man playing a trumpet. Inequality and sexism are represented in the image because of this. There is no woman who is reflected in the logo. Women are completely excluded from being portrayed in the logo, though the marching band is not a group that is exclusively male. This reflects another situation in which men’s gender, interests, and concerns take priority over women, excluding women.

At UB, I never had a boyfriend. As a heterosexual woman, that was a part of my life that was lacking. At more than half way through my senior year, I was still a virgin, and was quite proud of it. I had prided myself in trying remain chaste for the “right” person. Certainly, I dated and always had many male friends, with many who were very good friends – respectful, caring, protective, and gentlemanly, more like good brothers. But, there was never one who could adjust to my busy and focused lifestyle; perhaps there was never a man who wanted to work as hard as it would be required to maintain an intimate relationship with me. My focus was on my studies and activities, ending up with completing two degrees in the less than 3.5 years, less than the amount of time that it takes most students to complete one degree. And, perhaps I was not willing to “make” the time necessary for which an intimate relationship would have required to be successful. Through all of this, it was still okay at UB for me to make my own decision in regard to the types and levels of intensity of my relationships with others.

In the latter part of 1992, in my last semester at UB as an undergraduate, a peer raped me. The rape occurred on a blind date with him that had been arranged by two mutual friends, one of whom was a fraternity member. This man was a fellow UB student, two years younger than me, from Downstate New York who was also a member of the same fraternity as our mutual friend. The morning following the violent and hurtful rape that I experienced, I informed my two friends about it, and one friend encouraged me to confront the rapist about it by phone, another hurtful experience for me. While four people knew of the rape, it was not reported until I reported it to UB campus police a few years later, having caused all those involved to protect the rapist so that he cleanly got away with his crime, as well as creating accomplices out of our mutual “friends.”

In later reporting the crime to public safety at UB, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, dismissing it and minimizing it. The case went through the legal system, but the perpetrator was never charged, nor prosecuted. He got away with a violent rape in which I was harmed and injured in many ways. No one at UB provided me with any support in coping with what had occurred. No one told me that women at college and university campuses may have a chance of being raped. No one told me that men who are members of many college and university fraternities believe rape is sex. No one told me that the assistant district attorney in Buffalo would deny that I was raped, telling me that I had not been raped. No one told me that my life would be forever altered by being trusting of a man who was twisted in his thoughts and actions, violently raping and harming me, and getting away with it. No one asks to be raped. And, when it happens, I have experienced that it is the victim or survivor who is blamed, revictimized, and punished by many in society who do not hold the offender responsible or accountable for his actions.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Colleges and universities in which there is a rape culture present within their fraternities are not only sexist and harmful, but criminal. When all those who are supposed to protect women from harm, and support them in their reporting and recovery, but do not do so, and instead, support the actions of the rapist, they embolden and enable such men to continue their criminal actions, believing they can get away with it, because they have gotten away with it. It has been my experience that this hidden rape culture within certain fraternities at UB has continued and has been perpetuated. The annual tradition of fraternity men creating snow sculptures of ejaculating penises is only one reflection that this hidden rape culture within UB’s fraternities still exists, and is very much alive and well.

Lastly, when I completed my studies at UB in 1992, and returned to attend the graduation ceremony in 1993, it was a Division III institution. There had been a lot of talk and news about the possibility of UB going to Division I. Many students did not think it would happen; in fact, many hoped that it would not happen, including myself. This is because there was a belief among students that football would detract from UB’s reputation as a renowned research university in the Northeastern United States. My experience, as well as that of many students and faculty, was to observe that to occur.

In 1994 and 1995, I returned to UB and took several classes as an open student. I completed undergraduate courses, a graduate course, and a post-graduate class. It was during that time that I realized that the atmosphere and mood at UB had changed. Football became the “all important” aspect of UB. An example of that occurred in my sociology class. In my class were three football players who had extremely disrespectful attitudes and toilet mouths. They were disrespectful to the instructor, resistant and angry about having to attend class (and often, did not do so), and sat in the back of the class, swearing and causing disruption. Unfortunately, because they were football players, they were “untouchable.” They got away with all of these behaviors, and appeared to have the support of the heads of the athletics department in their unruliness. They acted abominably and they got away with it. Professors were afraid to speak out and express themselves about the manner in which education was deteriorating at UB, having been replaced with football, so lauded and supported by the institution’s president.

Women who enter UB, as well as other colleges and universities, must be informed and educated about these types of issues that are present in institutions of higher education so that we can better empower, bond with, and protect ourselves. Our society so often teaches girls and women that we must sacrifice ourselves, our identities, our safety, our intelligence, our feelings, our bodies to men. In order to survive and even prosper, women have often learned that it is a man’s world, and that we must be submissive and/or subservient to men. There are men and women who perpetuate this societal standard when they promote issues such as sexism and inequality toward women, as well as issues including sexual assault and rape. Denying and turning a blind eye to resolving these issues only promotes a culture that becomes even more sexist, unequal, harmful, and violent toward women and girls.

Prestigious universities such as UB have an opportunity to get back on the right track. College and university leaders must remain open-minded when faced with issues such as sexism, inequality, and sexual assault on campus, including rapes experienced by both women and men. They must not attempt to hide, cover up, ridicule, deny, or minimize these situations. Doing so only worsens and perpetuates them. College and university leaders must promote environments on campus that are fair and equal, respectful and appreciative, caring and sensitive.

I went to UB to gain an excellent education. While I, indeed, obtained a great education from an outstanding institution, I also graduated from UB, unnecessarily, as a rape victim and survivor. 😦 No one did anything to prevent or stop it from happening then, and to my knowledge, the culture there has not changed for the better for women, thus still perpetuating its continuance now.  UB did not make it better for me, but it can still make things better for others.

Author’s Note: This post – along with dozens of others regarding campus sexual assault – is listed on the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence website as of January 1, 2015 at: http://www.ncdsv.org/publications_sa-campus.html .

Gun Law Expansion Causes Georgia to Regress, not Progress (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Last evening, upon watching the national evening news, I was shocked to learn that Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal signed a new bill, called the Safe Carry Protection Act, into law, going into effect as of July 1, 2014.  Georgia House Bill 60 will allow permitted gun bearers to keep and carry guns into many churches, schools zones, portions of airports, government buildings, and bars.  Representative Doug Holt of Georgia’s 112th district introduced the legislation.  It has been stated that the gun lobby initiated and secured the enactment of this law, with many critics being strongly against it.  I am also one of those critics who is strongly against it.

An attorney in Georgia once told me that it is better not to keep or bear arms.  Why?  Because doing so creates the potential of using them, and of injuring others and/or taking their lives.  While I believe it is certainly important for people to have the ability to protect themselves, there is no need to expand gun rights in the United States.  Business owners, school officials, and church leaders should not be forced to be responsible to make decisions regarding whether or not people are able to carry guns onto their property and into their buildings.  It should be a no-brainer that people should not be allowed to carry guns into these venues, unless they are highly trained, and are paid as security personnel or police to maintain the safety of the venue.

What is also important to keep in mind is that just because a person carries a gun, does not mean that he or she is trained in using firearms, nor has the self-control necessary to make decisions that are in the best interests of everyone should a situation become heated or violent.  Further, anyone could walk into a venue, carrying a gun, and not have a legitimate permit.  It seems to me that the “Safe Carry Protection Act” only creates the potential for environments that are less safe and less protected.  Owning, having, carrying, and maintaining guns only creates the higher potential for using them, and therefore, for seriously injuring or killing people.  More guns means more potential for violence, period.

In his speech at Ellijay, Georgia yesterday, Governor Deal quoted Thomas Jefferson as well as the United States Constitution on many occasions.  He basically affirmed Jefferson’s values and beliefs related to Americans having the right to keep and bear arms, in order to protect themselves from the tyranny of the government.  Is our government tyrannical?  I thought we lived in a republic that practiced democratic values.  Must people be handed the right to keep and bear arms everywhere?  Indeed, critics of the new law have dubbed it the “guns everywhere” law.  Allowing a greater number of people to legally carry guns into so many venues creates the potential for a lawless state.  In Georgia, the right to keep and bear arms has appeared to become the foremost of its citizens inalienable rights, and wrongly so.  My legislators have not correctly supported or promoted my beliefs and values regarding these measures.

Have the people so quickly forgotten the many tragedies that have occurred throughout our nation as a result of the use of guns to injure and kill others?  Those tragedies, on a national scale, that quickly come to mind include those at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Columbine experienced the killings of 15 individuals, including the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.  In Newtown, Adam Lanza killed 28 people, including himself, on a tragic day when our nation lost so many innocent children and dedicated educators.

Another incident that comes to mind is when I was a teacher in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and a young teenaged boy hijacked a car, placing the vehicle’s owner at gunpoint, then driving the car to the school at which I worked, and entering the school that was in session for the day.  The school went on lockdown, and police with dogs searched the school for the boy.  It was believed that he was armed when he entered the school (although he was not armed at that time), and when he attempted to flee the school, police had their guns drawn on him as he attempted escape through a side exit.  It is because of incidents such as these that better security is needed at our nation’s schools, for example, rather than allowing seemingly anyone to carry guns almost where ever they please.

In short, if more people are allowed to legally carry guns into more buildings and venues in Georgia, including government buildings, schools, and churches, then I will definitely feel more uncomfortable, less safe, and less protected.  Further, allowing guns to be carried into bars only creates the potential for more harm to occur.  We already know that mixing alcohol with weapons has the potential to cause violence, such violence that is unnecessary.  Indeed, many people will likely feel much less safe and protected in the very locations and venues in which such protections are virtually guaranteed, such as particular government buildings for example.

Expanding gun laws and rights in Georgia – or anywhere in the United States, for that matter – is a step backward, not forward.  We no longer live in the 1700s, where it was “every man for himself.”  Our government is not tyrannical, and we do not need to protect ourselves from it with guns.  In fact, it is our government on which we rely for protections against those who do not abide by reasonable laws.  The Safe Carry Protection Act is not a reasonable law.  This law has proceeded to throw the baby out with the bath water, and takes Georgia one step further into creating a lawless state in which it will, again, be every person for themself.   Repeal this law before it is too late, causing more lives to be needlessly lost because of it.

References:

Columbine High School massacre (2014).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

Copeland, L., & Richards, D. (April 23, 2014). Ga. governor signs ‘guns everywhere’ into law.  USA Today.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/23/georgia-gun-law/8046315/

Georgia House of Representatives (2014).  Doug Holt.  Atlanta, GA: Georgia House of Representatives.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://www.house.ga.gov/Representatives/en-US/member.aspx?Member=128

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (2014).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting

Sayers, D.M., & McLaughlin, E.C. (April 23, 2014). Georgia law allows guns in some schools, bars, churches. Atlanta, Georgia: CNN.com.  Retrieved on April 24, 2014 from  http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/23/us/georgia-governor-signs-gun-bill/index.html

“Southerners Insist on Challenging Treacherous Weather Conditions” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Snow and Ice Melting on my Street, Snellville, Georgia, January 29, 2014

Snow and Ice Melting on my Street, Snellville, Georgia, January 29, 2014

Here we go again.  Here in the South, we are seeing yet another repeat of situations that have occurred in past winters in which there were treacherous icy and snowy conditions outside.  A couple of years ago, there was a snow storm that came through the South, leaving the Atlanta, Georgia area, where I live, shut down for one entire week.  Yesterday and today, we are, again, experiencing icy and snowy conditions that have caused numerous vehicle collisions and stranded 1,000s of motorists.

Obviously, folks have not learned from past experiences, is all I can think of.  When there is two inches of snow that covers wet roads that have turned icy, that is a good enough reason for me to stay put.  I don’t understand why other folks don’t do the same, unnecessarily risking life and limb to challenge Mother Nature, and often, losing in doing so.

My Son Having Fun Sledding, Snellville, Georgia, January 29, 2014

My Son Having Fun Sledding, Snellville, Georgia, January 29, 2014

Two years ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution about this same type of situation.  While my letter was right on topic and publishable, it was declined because there were already other letters on this issue that had been published, as I was informed by a newspaper staff member.  That’s fine, but I would like to make my point, again, that plows with salters and sanders are necessary in Georgia, and in other places throughout the South, for that matter.

Snowy Trees in Georgia, January 29, 2014

Snowy Trees in Georgia, January 29, 2014

The argument against such plows about which I read in media in the past is solely due to cost.  However, I believe that it is better to be safe than sorry.  To me, it would be worthwhile for state departments of transportation to invest in some plows with salters and sanders, and to plow at least main roads and highways when weather conditions become as treacherous as they are now.

I have heard and read blame directed toward the state transportation authorities for not ensuring these measures.  I have also observed and read in the media in the past that counties and municipalities in Georgia, particularly in and around the Atlanta metro area, have taken it upon themselves to invest in plows and to do plowing in weather conditions in which it is needed.  In light of all considerations and observations of which I am aware, I believe this is a smart move.  In the long run, these measures will have prevented innumerable vehicle accidents from occurring as well as having maintained the safety of those folks who insist on being out on the roads in such treacherous icy and snowy conditions.

Snowy Bushes in Georgia, January 29, 2014

Snowy Bushes in Georgia, January 29, 2014

Really, the best place to be when experiencing snow and ice in the South is indoors.  Emergency responders and the National Guard are over-extended when situations such as this occur, and people do not simply stay indoors.  Because there is such a lack of investment in snow removal machines and equipment in the South, folks here are forced to wait it out until the snow melts and safer road conditions return, or they can continue to try to challenge these type of conditions, and lose.

In places where there is little to no snow removal equipment used, why insist on challenging treacherous weather conditions?  In dealing with such treacherous icy and snowy weather conditions, it is better to be safe than sorry.    I believe that is the best philosophy in situations such as these.   On the other hand, however, life in the South should not come to a halt due to snow and ice.  People and the economy are placed at risk, and both suffer unnecessarily because of the lack of resources to effectively deal with the effects of winter weather.  Positive and progressive change are necessary in this area.

References:

Crary, D. (January 29, 2014).  “Snow and ice send South’s flagship city reeling.”  MSN.com.  Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://news.msn.com/us/after-storm-helicopters-search-for-stranded-drivers

Henry, R., & Bynum, R. (January 29, 2014).  “1 day after storm, Atlanta highways still gridlocked.”  MSN.com.  Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://news.msn.com/us/snowstorm-slams-the-south-leaves-drivers-stranded

Sen, C. (January 29, 2014).  “How 2 inches of snow created a traffic nightmare in Atlanta.”  MSN.com.  Retrieved on January 29, 2014 from http://news.msn.com/us/how-2-inches-of-snow-created-a-traffic-nightmare-in-atlanta

Blogbymichele 2013 Stats in Review (Blog by Michele Babcock-Nice)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2013. If it was a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Personal Message from Michele:

A great big “thank you” to all of my readers throughout the past two years!  I am happy to see that I have written about issues of interest to you.  My greatest goal in writing is to bring the truth and fact of information to readers, whether in articles that have a focus on the issues that may be perceived as positive, neutral, or negative.  It is only by being open to accurate and factual information – even if it is perceived as negative or controversial – that we, as a people, may understand particular issues, and improve upon them rather than make them worse, as unfortunately, so often occurs.

This is exactly why freedom of speech is so important – particularly freedom of speech without retaliation – so that all types of perspectives related to all kinds of issues are able to be presented.  Only with complete, thorough, factual, and accurate information can we form thoroughly-thought decisions, rather than making potentially incorrect judgments or assumptions.  This is also why it is important that writers present as many perspectives as possible about issues, not just those that are only perceived as positive, or solely those that others want to hear.

As people, it is our nature to only want to hear the “positive,” however there may be aspects about issues or situations that may be “negative” that get silenced, ignored, or overlooked – whether purposely or not – that do not give an accurate picture of the reality of those issues or situations.  It is my view that by society being more open to those issues that it doesn’t want to hear, as well as by being open to improving aspects regarding the realities of those issues, that people will progress rather than regress.

Thank you, again, for reading my blog.  Please return often!

Michele Babcock-Nice (Blogbymichele) 🙂

“Georgia’s SST Process is Supposed to Help, not Hurt Students” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Instructional Materials

Instructional Materials

In Georgia, schools have what is called “Student Support Team” or “SST” to assist students who are struggling with academics, behavior, and/or socialization in the classroom.  In my experience as a public middle school teacher in Georgia for six years, I found that the SST process was extremely helpful and supportive to students, especially when I was the teacher leading and/or otherwise participating in it.  My experienced education mentors in the DeKalb County School System near Atlanta taught me the process and ensured that open-mindedness was maintained in helping and supporting students with every possible intervention for which they qualified, based on their academic, behavioral, and/or social needs.  In public schools, one also had to maintain caution about not suggesting supports and/or interventions that the parent would not consider because the school system (as is true of all public school systems, to my knowledge) did not desire to pay for services that it was unable to offer.  In the private school setting, however, the SST process is extremely different and potentially much less supportive than that in public schools, which I will compare here.

“Georgia SST teams had their origin in a federal lawsuit known as Marshall vs. Georgia (1984). It dealt primarily with disproportionate placement of minority students in Special Education. While the state prevailed in this case, a shortcoming in Georgia education became obvious: there was no standard process for students to obtain individualized help in the regular classroom for learning or behavior difficulties.  Instead, the route to such help usually led to placement in Special Education, often involving removal from the general classroom.  As part of its commitment to federal court to remedy technical violations found in the trial, the State of Georgia mandated that a Student Support Team would be established in every Georgia public school, K-12. The court accepted this commitment, thereby making the SST mandate a permanent injunction” (Block quote from: State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011).

In my experience as a public school teacher in Georgia, I would estimate having led and/or participated in many dozens of SST process team meetings for my students.  Whenever any of my colleagues and/or I identified areas of deficiency and/or potential improvement for students, the students were referred to SST.  SST is a type of support for students that identifies and monitors areas and/or other characteristics of the student in the school setting that could be improved.  For example, a gifted student who has straight As in all subjects except for math – and who is failing math – can be referred to SST for support and monitoring.  Also, a student who has recently maintained average grades, but who has become withdrawn, is failing, and is at-risk (of dropping out of school) can be forwarded through the SST process.  And, a student whose behavior is inappropriate, unacceptable, and/or dangerous, and who is failing due to his or her behavior can also be referred to SST.  Additionally, a student who is pregnant and who is expected to be out of school for awhile due to giving birth can also be referred to SST.

In my experience in teaching public middle school students around Atlanta, Georgia, the SST process was always helpful on each and every occasion.  Public school educators are very interested in assisting and supporting students so that they will be successful, and/or so that they will improve in the areas in which betterment is desired.  I can say that the educators with whom I worked, including myself, were always consistently interested in helping and supporting our students as much as possible.  We went above and beyond in doing what we could, within legal guidelines for public school educators, in suggesting out-of-school supports, as well as in providing and implementing in-school aids to support increased success and learning. 

Some of the actions that were implemented by public school teachers for students through SST to aid them include moving the student’s desk closer in proximity to the teacher to better assist in maintaining the student’s attention; providing extended time to complete assignments and/or assessments; giving individualized verbal and written instructions and/or directions (in addition to addressing them to the entire class); breaking up larger assignments into smaller parts; providing more positive feedback, incentives, and reinforcements; providing increased follow-up, monitoring for progress, and/or redirection to students for whom it is needed and/or helpful; pairing students with those who are good mentors and/or role models; etc.  There are a great many more interventions that can be provided in the classroom, as well, including giving the student leadership opportunities in class; providing the student with more opportunities to speak and/or ask and answer questions; calling on the student by name; maintaining a positive, nonjudgmental tone with the student; not “guilting” a student because he or she is unable to understand and/or complete work; and giving students opportunities to be more mobile in class.  All of these interventions and more are those which my colleagues and I implemented for students with whom we were involved in the SST process.

In contrast, I can also describe a perfect example of how the SST process has broken down and has seriously emotionally and/or academically-injured and/or failed a student, including the generation of risk to their health and life.  I believe that because educators, administrators, and/or counselors and psychologists in private schools are unfamiliar and inexperienced with the SST process in Georgia because they have not been required to utilize it and/or there has been little to no oversight or enforcement of it in their school systems, that it is not nearly as effective as the process implemented in public schools.  Or, perhaps school employees in private schools may deliberately mishandle the process, purposely jeopardizing students’ health, life, and/or academic success.  Public school teachers in Georgia utilitze the SST process to assist students all the time; private school teachers and other school personnel appear to perceive the SST process as a last resort and something to avoid at all possible costs.  Even for those students who may need, require, and/or benefit from the SST process in private schools, there is a great lack of it’s utilization in the private school environment, as I have observed.

In relation to the particular student whom I will call Carl, he is an elementary school (grade 3) aged child who has regularly achieved high grades and is an honor student, academically, behaviorally, as well as in character and values.  Carl’s standardized test scores are extremely high, with his average academic functioning ranging between grade 5 to 7, and his overall academic functioning ranging between grade 3 to grade 10.  Carl’s socialization might benefit from more positive interactions and opportunities for positive, small group cooperative work with his peers, however he has had prior experiences that have understandably-caused him to be cautious of his peers and others.  Carl could also benefit from increased follow-up, attention, reassurance, and positive reinforcement from his teachers, as well as greater open-mindedness toward utilizing and implementing supports that will better aid in Carl’s academic success, reduction in stress, and increased happiness and confidence at school.

For Carl, it would have benefited him for his teachers and/or school to have instituted the SST process immediately upon their observation of him requiring additional time to complete his assignments and/or assessments.  They provided accommodations to Carl for a period of six months prior to nearly all of them being removed by the school psychologist, against the many suggestions and evidence provided by an outside professional who completed an outside evaluation of Carl.  It’s not that Carl is unable to perform extremely well on all of his work, it’s that he simply needs some additional time to complete it.  Therefore, what happened was that extended time was provided for some time, and following an outside assessment, nearly all extended time was removed, even though the professional who completed the outside assessment repeatedly recommended continuing the extended time accommodations, and identified – through a valid evaluation – that Carl’s processing time was lower than average.  Basically, the evaluation that was completed addressed only reading and math, and not language arts or writing.  Simply based on the reading and math results of the evaluation, the school psychologist of the private faith-based school removed nearly all of Carl’s extended time accommodations, without having any concrete evidence to do so in his other subjects. 

School Books and Assignments

School Books and Assignments

In my experience, removing accommodations already in place without evidence to support the need for their removal is simply not done and is unethical.  To remove nearly all of six months worth of accommodations placed Carl at significant peril in many areas of his life and development.  In all of my experience, accommodations are only removed when the student shows progress in being able to be successful without them in place.  Accommodations are never removed if they will hurt the student in some – or any – way.  In Carl’s situation, nearly all of his extended time accommodations were removed, and it was literally like the rug being pulled out from under him.  Again, the professional who completed Carl’s evaluation repeatedly stated that the extended time accommodations was needed and warranted.  The school psychologist who interpreted the professional’s evaluation removed nearly all of the accommodations that were in place to help support Carl in maintaining success. 

The school psychologist would rather remove accommodations already proven to help and support Carl, and require additional evaluations, rather than keep supports in place that have aided in his success.  The school principal also likely prepped the school psychologist for the outcome that was desired, and that is what occurred.  Further, school leaders always speak of wanting a partnership between home and school, however when situations such as this occur – when accommodations are removed that have been proven to assist the student in his success – it reflects that there is no partnership, and instead, there exists an adversarial relationship.

Following the removal of nearly all of Carl’s accommodations by the school psychologist, he began failing many assignments and/or attaining low grades on them – not because he was not capable of doing them well, but because he was unable to complete them.  This, therefore, placed extreme and unnecessary stress on Carl, and led to a crisis situation.  It, therefore, appears that the school psychologist and even perhaps other school leaders are more interested in removing supports to assist students, rigidly adhering to curriculum requirements that students may be unable to attain without extra supports, and essentially and literally placing a nail in a student’s coffin by removing supports that have assisted them. 

Rather than understand and support an outstanding student such as Carl as much as possible, why would a school psychologist remove supports for him that have been proven to assist him in his success?  Why would a school psychologist prefer to create a crisis situation for such a wonderful and outstanding student, when there is no evidence to support the removal of accommodations already in place?  Does the school psychologist prefer that Carl fail?  Does the school psychologist intend for Carl to experience a crisis or worse?  It appears so.

In this situation, the SST process at this private, faith-based school has failed Carl, and caused risk to his health and life.  Worse than negatively affecting his grades, assignment completion, confidence, and mood, it caused a crisis situation that could have led to Carl not being here today.  Is curriculum of greater importance than a child’s life?  Is educational rigidity and a lack of understanding of students more important than supporting and helping them as much as possible to be successful and happy in school?  Are private schools not to be held accountable for assisting students with success through positive (rather than negative) endeavors of the SST process?  In this particular situation, this certainly appears to be the case. 

When a related issue of parentally-requested school support of Carl be completed for him – and it was not – the issue went before the school system’s superintendent, who cited her support for curriculum, policy, and the privatization of the school system, preferring those areas to the support and well-being of Carl.  When school leaders succumb to intellectual blindness related to denying support, success, well-being, and lives of their students, such school leaders cease to be effective.  School leaders who are also unable to cope with constructive criticism and honesty, and who are either unwilling or unable to provide simple support, understanding, and compassion to students – particularly children – have the potential for being more destructive than constructive. 

In order to be productive and progressive, schools and school leaders must be open-minded to all perspectives and philosophies – even the ones they don’t like to hear – in order to improve and in order to best-serve and benefit the students.  School leaders, particularly those in upper administration, must also use their intelligence and insight in order to model, understand, and believe what is true and correct – as well as remain ethical – rather than allowing themselves to be poisoned by inaccurate or false information provided to them by those whom they manage. 

There are some school leaders who are open-minded and effective because they listen to and consider the issues of their customers, however there often seem to be many more who do not listen to, nor consider serious issues because they do not approach the issues with open-mindedness and without prejudgment and bias.  Leaders of the former-type are most effective because they always have the best interests of the students in mind.  Regarding the latter-type leaders, their purposeful ignorance and/or “fix” to the issues may only contribute to further problems and a worsening of the issues.

Students in all schools in Georgia – not just those attending public schools – must be afforded the positive support that they need through SST and the SST process.  Removing supports that were put in place to assist the student, and doing so with no evidence that the student is able to perform as well without the supports, unnecessarily injures the student, placing the student at risk for further injury.  Hopefully, people who have been entrusted to support and help students will do so, rather than playing with their intellect, emotions, and lives as if they are unimportant and unvalued.  Hopefully, such people will do so before it is too late.  But, then again, some people never change.

References:

State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011.  “Student Support Teams (SST): Structure and Process” (p. 4).  Retrieved on March 3, 2013 from   http://archives.gadoe.org/DMGetDocument.aspx/SST%20Guidelines%20Final%209-16-11.pdfp=6CC6799F8C1371F62BDB7AD6F76A3052D9E5ABE36C978EDD135479A5CF0628D1&Type=D

“Thanks for the Beautiful New Roads in my Neighborhood!” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Newly Resurfaced Road in my Neighborhood, Snellville, Georgia, February 2013

Newly Resurfaced Road in my Neighborhood, Snellville, Georgia, February 2013

Yes, here it is, folks!  It’s the road that you’ve been waiting for!  And my, it is quite a beautiful road, I must say.  Seriously, several streets in my neighborhood have been newly paved, and they are beautiful!  I guess this is what you would call ‘resurfacing,’ to someone who doesn’t know alot about the appropriate terms to use when describing road paving.  It is all really nice.

Newly Resurfaced Street in my Neighborhood, Snellville, Georgia, February 2013

Newly Resurfaced Street in my Neighborhood, Snellville, Georgia, February 2013

About three weeks ago, the workers, trucks, machines, and equipment were in full gear in my neighborhood, paving two streets and a large portion of one lengthy road.  The workers moved along quickly and appeared to take pride and were professional in their project.  On one particular day, I stopped in my vehicle and spoke to two workers, complimenting their handiwork, and one replied, “The pleasure is ours, Ma’am.”  Not only did the E.R. Snell Contractor Inc. employees of Snellville, Georgia do fine, professional work, but they were also courteous and pleasant, as well.

Newly Resurfaced Road in my Neighborhood, Snellville, Georgia, February 2013

Newly Resurfaced Road in my Neighborhood, Snellville, Georgia, February 2013

So, my thanks goes to E.R. Snell Contactor Inc. and their professional and courteous employees for resurfacing several of the streets in my neighborhood.  They are really beautiful, and the work appears to be of high quality so that the roads will last a good long while. 

I have been wanting to make this post ever since the roads were re-paved, though I must apologize since my son was ill for several days, and I have been ill, and we have also had some other issues going on.  So, please don’t think all of this wonderful work has gone unnoticed – it certainly hasn’t!  It’s not every day that the roads in one’s immediate area are resurfaced; and I, for one, certainly appreciate it.

“Orchard Park Central School District (New York): Truly an Exceptional School System” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

There are schools out there that are truly outstanding and exceptional.  It is unfortunate that, all too often, those schools, school districts, and/or school systems that are truly outstanding and exceptional do not receive greater attention and recognition.  The Orchard Park Central School District in Western New York State is one such truly excellent, admirable, inspiring, outstanding, and exceptional school system.  It is located in an affluent suburb of Buffalo, New York.  And, it is a school system that is composed of six schools, including one high school, one middle school, and four elementary schools.  I will take the liberty of sharing some of the many incredibly excellent qualities of this school system.

More than one decade ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of being employed as a substitute teacher for two years within Orchard Park Central Schools, while I was completing my teacher certification requirements in secondary social studies education.  I was called upon to substitute teach nearly every day during the academic year, being offered and having taken opportunities to be a daily and short-term substitute teacher.  Most of the experience that I had in substitute teaching at Orchard Park was in high school special education as well as in middle school core subjects, though I also substituted in all subject areas throughout elementary, middle, and high schools there.  My experience substitute teaching during the two years that I was at Orchard Park were like no other that I have ever had in their excellence, whether as a substitute teacher, salaried teacher, or voluntary teacher.

What I experienced while subbing in the Orchard Park Central School District were many wonderful things.  People throughout the school system were caring, compassionate, kind, hard-working, flexible, understanding, professional individuals with high standards and expectations, integrity, values, and insightfulness.  They were well-educated, open-minded, creative, and thought outside-of-the-box.  They were not rigid, inflexible, or set in their ways.  They were people who – though their instruction, policies, and practices were already outstanding – were always finding new ways of performing better, achieving more, being the best they could be. 

People at Orchard Park, when I was there, were those who communicated and interacted well with each other.  They always wanted the best for the students.  The focus was not on themselves, not on hiding their own rare errors or human imperfections, but on being positive role models and guides for students.  They were professionals who supported each other in positive ways and raised themselves and each other up.  They were positive with each other, but also provided constructive – not condeming – criticism of and toward each other when it was necessary, in order to strengthen and improve the quality of their education and standards, not causing it to regress. 

These were people who were confident enough in themselves to know that the greater community was supportive of them, and they trusted that students’ parents understood that they always acted in the manner to best benefit the children.  Trust was mutual between school professionals and students’ parents because those school employees always exemplified the best in instruction, education, discipline, safety, care, compassion, concern, standards, policies, honesty, and professionalism.  In these ways, the mutual bond of trust and confidence between school and home was also reflected in the confidence, trust, and performance of the students – in all levels and in all areas. 

If something could be improved, administrators and teachers fairly-reviewed the situation, and enhanced instruction, education, standards, and/or policies, making things better for everyone.  Academic standards are those that are most important at Orchard Park, and certain high school teachers would sacrifice several Saturdays throughout the academic year to come to school on their own time to review with and drill students to better-prepare them for important standardized tests.  Core middle school teaching teams often met with parents in conferences to inform parents of their child’s performance and progress, as well as things that were going well, things that could be improved, and anything else that was noticeable about the child, particularly those positive and more personal qualities and characteristics. 

Teachers and administrators at Orchard Park went out of their way to make the school experience not only a professional experience, but also a personal one for everyone, most particularly the students.  In this way, students, parents, and families genuinely felt valued, important, honored, respected, and understood.  It was good to be kind, caring, compassionate, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing toward students.  That is what was sought, wanted, desired in the professionals at Orchard Park. 

Lines of communication between the school, families, and community were always open.  Compliments and criticisms were accepted, heard, and appreciated.  When an administrator or teacher heard something they did not want to hear from another about themselves, they did not lash out with concealed vengeance in any way to somehow get back at the student and/or the student’s family.  School administrators and teachers at Orchard Park were both professional enough and honorable enough to take in what was said, reflect upon it, and improve.  They did not ignore, deny, or overlook the situation, nor did they blame others – including the child – instead of perceiving their own actions and/or gaining feedback from other colleagues.  They always tried to perform in the best manner for the students.

So much openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity is present in and throughout the Orchard Park Central School District.  High School seniors were afforded opportunities to participate in “Open Campus,” a time during which they could leave campus for certain parts of the day to perform other actions or responsibilities.  A great number of clubs and extracurricular activities, including art, music, theater, sports, language, and other activities were also available to students to expand their horizons and fulfill their creative endeavors. 

More recently, the school district implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program within the school system.  When I was at Orchard Park, though I did not perceive any serious issues related to peer-to-peer bullying, and though I believed the policies toward student respectfulness were excellent, there were those rare occasions when students were bullied, more particularly certain high school students who appeared different and/or did not fit in with the mainstream in some way.  The openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity in the folks at Orchard Park Central School District are what has allowed the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, already reflecting reported improvements in reducing bullying and improving peer respectfulness toward each other. 

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, as well as sharing with the community about any sex offenders living in the district, as well as other programs, are those that place the Orchard Park Central School District on the cutting edge of progressive, exceptional school systems.  The professionalism, integrity, intelligence, compassion, and appropriate personalization of the district’s faculty and staff – as well as the support they receive from the greater community and school board – are also what place the school system in the forefront of educational systems – whether public, private or parochial. 

When one works in the Orchard Park Central School District, he or she feels and is supported, much like one would experience within their own family.  Because such professionalism, support, trust, intelligence, and confidence are prevalent within the school system among adults, these qualities and values are also purveyed to the children and students.  Also, because so many adults within the school students’ families are educated and maintain high standards and expectations, this is also what is often reflected within the students, as well.  Not only are the students generally intelligent and creative, but they are typically respectful and honorable.

It was most certainly my pleasure and privilege to have been employed as a substitute teacher within the Orchard Park Central School District more than one decade ago.  Though I applied to the school system for a salaried teaching position once I acquired my educator certification, I believe that I did not have enough of a stake, influence, or network within the community to be considered.  Orchard Park would have been my dream school system within which to teach as a full-time educator.  Though such an opportunity was not afforded to me, I will always carry the memories of the wonderful experiences that I had within this outstanding, exceptional school system.  Thank you, Orchard Park, for being the best you can be, and for always striving to do even better…for the students!

References:

Orchard Park Central School District.  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?&school=0 .

Orchard Park Central School District.  “Olweus” (Bullying Prevention Program.)  January 18, 2013.  http://www.opschools.org/spotlight.cfm?sp=6&start=1&end=25&school=0 .