Paul Bolenbaugh

081613_insider_flashback_bolenbaugh1A legend in Baltimore’s Jewish community, Paul Bolenbaugh, 75, has been teaching students — first at Pikesville High School and, for the last 10 years, at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School — for almost 50 years. The JT caught up with Bolenbaugh, who teaches history, during his summer vacation to explore what’s changed and what’s remained the same since he first began his career.

JT: When did you start teaching?
Bolenbaugh:
I started teaching in the Baltimore County Public Schools in 1960 and began teaching at Pikesville High School in 1965. I taught the very first graduating class there.

What is your favorite part about teaching?
The interaction with the students. At Pikesville, the students made me laugh every day. Now that I’m at Beth Tfiloh, they make me laugh every day, too. It keeps me young.

You teach the children of former students now. What’s that like?
Around 1985, I started teaching the children of former students at Pikesville. Every year, I have a student or several students whose parents I’ve taught. [For many years] I never had a sense of the passage of time and I never thought about it. After moving to BT, I became more conscious of time and of my age.

081613_insider_flashback_bolenbaugh2Where do you see the most change between the current generation of students and their parents’ generation?
It’s a whole different universe. I think that the earlier students I taught were more avid readers. The current students do read, but they are reading through iPads or computers. It’s nothing like picking up a book and reading.

The politics of the country have changed. When I taught at Pikesville, Vietnam protests were raging. I know students from Pikesville who went to Washington to protest. Students’ interests in politics are lower key nowadays. Students today are concerned about environmental problems. I think their parents were more aware of global issues; they knew the names of countries.

Most students today don’t know what’s going on in the world. At BT … students learn and are aware of the Middle East, but overall I think their parents were more aware of what’s going on in the world. [Yet somehow], I think their children are, in some cases, worldlier.

What’s the most rewarding part of teaching a child of a former student?
When someone remembers you and says, “You taught me something” — some core concept or idea that affected their lives — you cannot imagine how good that makes a teacher feel. Every time I encounter it, it makes me feel that I chose the right profession.

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Kinderkool

[slideshow id=”Kinderkool”]

“Ms. Cohen said we have to have 24 red pens,” says a pouting second-grader.

“That’s ridiculous, Jacob. You must have written it down wrong,” says his harried mother.

“Mom, can I have this backpack? It’s got ‘Monsters University’ on it,” says the fourth-grader. … Oh, and the lunchbox too. Almost $250 later, Mom and her two boys pile into the minivan. They still haven’t found 3-by-5-inch index cards or 21/2-inch binders. They’ll have to stop at another store.

Ah, the joy of back-to-school shopping …

While not all back-to-school stress can be avoided, why not do your part to put less stress this year on both the environment and your pocketbook? Consider ways to buy less and/or buy more earth-friendly school supplies.

• Does your child really need new boxes of crayons, erasers and scissors? How many of these items lie around your house, in junk drawers or basements? Are there perfectly good pencils in need only of a good sharpening?

• While kids love new binders and folders, and even a new backpack each year, consider if these purchases are really necessary. Perhaps, one or two new items will suffice, supplemented with the gently used school supplies from last year.

• Choose backpacks and lunchboxes carefully, both design-wise and durability-wise. Your child may beg for a Dora backpack this year, but next year, it may be “too babyish.” Instead, choose well-made backpacks with neutral designs that your child loves, even if they are a bit more expensive. That way, she may be happy using them again next year.

Look for school supplies made of recycled or natural materials such as hemp, and avoid using environmentally unfriendly products such as plastic sandwich bags, juice boxes, plastic water bottles and paper lunch bags. Buy recycled paper and other supplies made from recycled materials. These are readily available and, in some cases, cost no more than non-recycled materials. And don’t forget local consignment stores for back-to-school fashions. These are not only easy on the wallet, but they also keep textiles out of landfills.

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Physical Challenge

With childhood obesity on the rise, today’s physical educators are tasked with combating this and similar issues.

With childhood obesity on the rise, today’s physical educators are tasked with combating this and similar issues.

Tamar Kiewe, 14, enjoys being active and loves playing sports. And, for the most part, she says, she was one of the few girls who actually participated in her physical education class at Pikesville Middle School.

But, there’s one element of P.E. that puzzles her: the regular smattering of fitness tests. Timed runs, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups. “Why bother?” she wonders.

“It’s pointless. Absolutely pointless,” Tamar says. “I understand stretching so you don’t hurt yourself, but there is no point to doing push-ups and jumping jacks [in P.E. class].”

What Tamar may not realize is that countless kids in the U.S. today aren’t as naturally active and as physically fit as she. Statistics show that many kids need a little kick in the tush to get moving.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. And, the percentage of children ages 6 to 11 in the U.S. who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010. During the same period, the percentage of adolescents ages 12 to 19 who were obese increased from 5 to 18 percent.

In response, P.E. class isn’t what it used to be. Teachers no longer roll a ball out to the students and say, “OK, go play!” Instead, the onus to combat childhood weight issues has fallen on the education system. Now, P.E. teachers are tasked with instructing their students on the foundations of living a healthy lifestyle.

The “pointless” exercises Tamar refers to are components of what’s called a FitnessGram, a widely used physical-fitness assessment that enables teachers to record and track students’ progress over the school year. The mission of the program isn’t competition between students. It’s simply a means to provide them with the tools they need to become healthier people down the road.

“The whole point of our concept area is to introduce students to an active lifestyle,” says Rebecca Chinsky, a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate who has taught P.E. in Baltimore City schools for the last four years. “I don’t care how successful you are so long as you are trying. I’m not going to grade you on whether you make or miss 10 free throws or you can run a mile. I want to see effort and improvement.”

Chinsky explains that part of the issue lies in the reality that parents themselves usually aren’t educated on the subject. To them, playing outside and being active came naturally. Now, with videogames, iPads and other indoor options, kids are increasingly remaining inside the house and not getting a substantive amount of exercise.

“Growing up, we were always outside doing something,” says Sonya Howell, a P.E. teacher at BT since 1991. “Now it’s a matter of trying to get them retrained and instilling the importance of movement.” (Howell notes that she meets with teachers every year to explain how they can execute similar activities during recess periods.)

Howell says that the implementation of fitness exercises isn’t the only area in which P.E. class has evolved over the years.

The days of selecting a “team captain” — often the most athletic boy or girl in the class — and having him or her pick teams for sports activities are over. Often, this practice resulted in the same kids getting picked last, leading to feelings of embarrassment and alienation. It also subjected those students to potential bullying.

Howell still picks team captains, but she lets all kids of different skill levels assume the role. And she quashes the issue of the same kids being picked last by giving each captain the choice of two students — each of similar aptitude — to pick from. The key, she says, is familiarizing herself which each student’s abilities.

Chinsky uses a similar method, and both she and Howell say that witnessing the humiliation of classmates who were picked last influenced their commitment to not letting that happen to their students. Chinsky reiterated that the burden is on the teacher to set kids up to excel.

“That’s the job of any teacher, no matter what content area,” Chinsky says. “You have to know your students and differentiate your instruction so that all students have the chance for success.”

Tamar says that at Pikesville, students are aligned in “squads,” six rows with four or five kids per row, and that teams were normally formed by combining squads.

It takes the “picking teams” element completely out of the picture.

Tamar’s mother, Suzanne Kiewe, says that she wished a similar strategy existed when she attended Pikesville Middle (then Pikesville Junior High) in the late 1970s.

“I was always one of the last ones picked for the team, and I hated it. It was horrible,” she recalls. “I think it’s terrible to put kids in that position.”

David Snyder is a JT staff reporter dsnyder@jewishtimes.com

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Sticks & Stones

Susan Kurlander’s Everyone Counts program uses the book “One” to help preschool educators talk about bullying with their students. (David Stuck)

Susan Kurlander’s Everyone Counts program uses the book “One” to help preschool educators talk about bullying with their students.
(David Stuck)

Can a 4-year-old be a bully?

Donna Kane, Jewish Community Services school and camp consultant, says bullying behavior can happen in preschool, but she stresses there is a distinction to be made between bullying and developmentally age-appropriate behavior.

“If a child is grabbing a toy from another child, it can look like bullying, but it is normal for a preschool child,” Kane says. “If the kid goes to the same child [repeatedly] and takes away toys with the intention of making that child feel bad, it’s a pattern you could call bullying. Yet, at that age there are so many interventions you can do. The children are really just upset, but they can’t talk about it. You [an adult] can help to resolve the situation.”

With intervention and conflict resolution in mind, Kane and Susan Kurlander, JCS health educator, have developed a new interactive program, Everyone Counts. Based on an award-winning picture book, “One,” by Kathryn Otoshi, the program encourages children to treat each other with respect and to speak out when others are mistreated. The book tells the story of how Red — a character shaped like a circle — bullies Blue, also a circle.

At first, the other colored circles (yellow, green, purple and orange) stand by and let this happen. One day, a number One arrives on the scene. One won’t allow Red to bully him.

As the colors see One standing up for himself, they too begin to assert themselves. They invite Red to be part of their diverse group, and he joins them. The story ends happily as the circles show that Everyone Counts.

Kurlander said she was inspired to create the program after her supervisor, Howard Reznick, brought “One” to their office.

“Howard said, ‘This is an age-appropriate way to deal with bullying,’” recalls Kurlander.

“Bullying manifests really early at 3, 4 or 5 years old. It can be physical and verbal; emotional bullying comes later.”

Verbal bulling, says Kurlander, is when kids say things such as, “If you don’t do something, I won’t be your friend anymore.”

Physical bullying is more obvious. The kids say, “I want what you have or want …” and takes physical action.

One of the major benefits of the program is that it addresses the individual who is bullied and the one who does the bullying, and it also shows that it’s not OK to be a bystander.

“What I like about the program is that it’s very interactive,” says Kane. “Kids learn about inclusion, that everyone has value. I would like to think we’re planting a seed.”

Everyone Counts provides pre-program questions that can be discussed during the reading of the story along with post-program questions and activities. One of the suggested activities encourages students to pick a trusted adult to whom they can reach out if they are being bullied. Included with the teacher’s guide is a certificate congratulating the trusted adult for being selected.

Teachers can use the program’s curriculum on their own or can have Kurlander and Kane present it to the class. Kurlander says when they brought the new program to preschool classes at the JCC, she was amazed by how the 4-year-olds responded.

“The kids were engaged right away,” Kurlander says. “They were so quick to relate their own experiences. In the book, when Blue is bullied, he becomes flat. One little boy said, ‘he melted.’ The visuals [in the storybook] triggered that choice of words. It was incredible.”

Kurlander recalls that when she discussed the courage it takes to stand up to a bully, one little girl compared Blue to the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“She said, ‘The lion had courage inside him all along, but he didn’t know it,’” says Kurlander. “We can’t underestimate the understanding of young kids.”

JCC Early Childhood Center teachers Jeri Goodman, Karen Levin and Arlene Leiberman all experienced the power of Everyone Counts, when Kurlander and Kane presented the program to their classes of 4-year-olds last spring.

“I think the program is wonderful,” says Goodman. “I loved the concept and the book. At this age, kids are starting to know better, but they still need guidance. They are starting to navigate the social world.”

Levin used the program with her class and thinks it is “fabulous. We used it [as a launching point] to talk about how we feel being bullied and how we can try to make the bully understand that.”

Levin says that at the beginning of each school year, she talks to her class about differences.

“We teach that even if someone is different on the outside, we are all the same inside,” she says. “We all have feelings, and if someone hurts us, we have to stand up for ourselves. If they see someone making a friend feel bad, [they know] they should stand up for that friend. We have to give kids the tools and the words to use when the bullying is happening. The program just pulled it all together.”

Leiberman, a 27-year veteran of preschool education, says she has referenced the program when witnessing bullying behavior in her classroom.

“I’ll say, ‘You’re acting like Red from the story,’” she says.

“I was raised with the saying, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.’ But it’s not true,” says Kurlander. “Words can hurt.”

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter sellin@jewishtimes.com

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Clowning Around

081613_insider_clowning_around1There’s a certain level of satisfaction in making a roomful of people crack up. And, as a career class clown, it’s one I’ve experienced time and time again.

My peak came during freshman year of college, when a quick-witted response to a question led to my 250-student economics lecture erupting in laughter. (The professor was not nearly as amused.)

I’ve been both lauded and reprimanded for my clowning.

A high school history teacher once booted me into the hallway and had me write a one-page poem apologizing for remarks I had made in class. Naturally, I made it funny.

As the school year approaches, the beauty is that a whole new crop of class clowns will endeavor to cement themselves in this illustrious fraternity.

However, what many novices do not know is that class clownery is an art form. There is a science to it. And having mastered it over the years, it’s one I am happy to share.

First off, never, under any circumstances, laugh at your own jokes: That’s Comedy 101. Here are some other keys:

Feel out the teachers: Determining which faculty are the most forgiving toward your humorous contributions is Job No. 1 for any aspiring class clown. While you may be the main act, it’s the teachers who run the show. Even the best jokester can be thwarted by a teacher with a zero-tolerance policy for classroom interruptions. And when an instructor has established a strict environment, it decreases the likelihood that classmates will laugh at your gags, fearing their own punishment. If a class clown doesn’t properly scout out the teacher, he can end up wasting his best material.

Pick your spots: Not every moment in the classroom is conducive to a joke. For example, if you’re minutes away from taking a test or being told about a complex assignment, it’s probably not the ideal time for laughs. The stress level among classmates is too high, and your peers are too focused to appreciate any humor you have to offer. Instead, choose a time when the mood is lighter, such as when you are working on the drill. I mean come on, who cares about the drill? The “end” is also prime time. End of class, end of the day or end of the year — all provide a window of leniency.

Don’t overdo it: The expression “less is more” is crucial for class clowns. Your classmates want quality, not quantity, and if you start blurting out remarks every chance you get, the hilarious contributions you do make will lose their luster. I’ve seen aspiring class clowns disregard their joke frequency, and the results were disastrous. Peers end up loathing the verbal intrusions, and once a class clown has lost his fan base, it’s an impossible hole to dig out of. Sometimes the best joke is the one not uttered. Save it for a better time, and make your classmates appreciate your gift.

Mix in some actual contributions: To me, this is the most overlooked element. When a question is asked in class, politely raise your hand, wait to be called on and deliver a thoughtful, appropriate answer. It’s the best kind of curveball you can throw. No one sees it coming. Not only does it set you up to be called on (with the intent of making jokes) in the future, but it shows your teachers and classmates that, hey, you’re a smart person who is paying attention and learning something — even amid the fun.

Don’t make it personal: This one is simple. Your jokes should poke fun at something related to the class content itself — not at the people in the class with you. Steer clear of cracking jokes about your teachers or classmates. It’s a bottom-of-the-barrel way to go about getting a laugh, and nobody likes a bully.

David Snyder is a JT staff reporter dsnyder@jewishtimes.com

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In Any Language …

David Gevarter says his Hebrew improved from taking part in  this summer’s Baltimore Zionist District Israel trip. (Justin Tsucalas)

David Gevarter says his Hebrew improved from taking part in
this summer’s Baltimore Zionist District Israel trip.
(Justin Tsucalas)

After a month in Israel this summer, David Gevarter arrived home with a suitcase full of laundry and a much better grasp of Hebrew.

“I learned a lot of words that I wouldn’t have retained had I just read them from a dictionary — words that came in handy reading the signs,” says Gervarter, a rising junior at Catonsville High School, who also studies Spanish.

What David and his fellow teens on the Baltimore Zionist District (BZD) summer trip learned was something foreign-language instructors have known for a long time: Language immersion is a great learning tool.

“It’s almost like seeing a new student,” says John McLucas, a professor of modern language at Towson University, who says that just a couple of weeks visiting a non-English-speaking country can make a huge difference in language ability.

Historically, foreign-language programs have been ahead of the curve in adopting new ideas. These days, sweating over grammar has given way to more dynamic instruction with teachers urging their students to start speaking from the get-go.

“What we know from research is you need to start using the language to communicate, and you only get better if you take risks; you use it, and you make mistakes, because that’s how you become more accurate in your communications,” says Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “So the old myth that you have to know all these grammar rules before you can produce the language is exactly that, a myth. You only become more accurate in your language
use by speaking the language. That’s what we’re trying to get language teachers to focus on.”

In the modern classroom, teachers may live-stream foreign TV shows or have the students Skype with kids from other countries. And there are innumerable opportunities for service-learning projects with non-English speakers and to travel worldwide.

Sometimes, trends in language education follow world events. McLucas says Russian is not as strong as it was 30 years ago, while Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew are on the upswing.

While Abbott laments that public-school foreign-language instruction nationwide often doesn’t start until as late as ninth or 10th grade, there are numerous exceptions.

Many preschools offer foreign-language instruction, although McLucas notes that kids tend to lose it if they don’t continue in elementary school.

Baltimore’s day schools put a strong emphasis on Hebrew, and Baltimore County’s public schools offer several language-immersion experiences, including a French program at the Wellwood International School and at Sudbrook Middle Magnet School.

Zack Crosby of Towson completed both programs. (At Sudbrook he also took Japanese as an elective; he’s now thinking of studying Arabic.) At the same time, he also tackled Hebrew.

“Now a rising junior at St. Paul’s School, Zack is fluent in French. Traveling on the BZD trip this summer, he got the chance to use his Hebrew.

Zack’s mom, Lynn, believes there’s no downside to learning a language.

“American children really must have another language; we’re a global society,” she says.

Is Zack an anomaly? The answer is no; most children, say the experts, can learn multiple languages.

“Parents who give kids the opportunity to learn Hebrew at an early age allow them to develop that ability [to learn to speak] in two languages.” says Abbott. “Then the third and the fourth [languages] come even easier.”

Traveling through Israel this summer, David says it was cool when his Israeli guide would teach him a new word and he would understand it in a later conversation.

While English remains the official language in many worldwide business transactions, multi-lingual young people are highly marketable in the global economy.

Abbott says when she was teaching, she had a poster in her classroom listing the different careers that made use of foreign languages. Today, of course, it’s helpful in just about any career.

Helping Your Student Master A Different Language
Even if you don’t speak the language, you can still help your kids learn. Marty Abbott says the family can go to a restaurant where the child can use the language to place an order, or visit a museum that showcases a particular culture, or even take a trip to a country where the language is spoken.

Should parents steer their kids toward a particular language? John McLucas says parents can provide an adult perspective on the value of one language over another, but if a child really has a passion for a particular language, let him/her go for it.

When evaluating a language program for your kids, Abbott urges you to look for teachers who use the language in class, with the students practicing real-world communication.

Amy Landsman is a local freelance writer.

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The Great Sleep Debate

081613_insider_great_sleep_debateThere have been times that teacher Joel Monroe has resorted to dropping a stack of books next to the desk of a sleeping student.

Monroe, chairman of the history department at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, doesn’t do it because he’s a mean guy. It’s just that sometimes he has to resort to drastic measures to get students to wake up in class.

He finds the whole issue terribly frustrating, saying it seems kids are getting less sleep now than ever before.

“I’m really worried,” he says.

Every school year, Monroe reminds his students that they need to get sufficient shut-eye.

“Kids simply do not get enough sleep, and their bodies are going to try to get that sleep somewhere. If it’s not at home, then the only other obvious place to do it is in the classroom,” he says.

It’s not just teachers who are concerned. Local pediatricians say lack of sleep — or trouble sleeping — is a major issue today.

As adults, we may drag our feet if we haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep. For kids, it’s different. Sinai Hospital developmental-behavioral pediatrician Dr. Sharon Richter sees a lot of overlapping issues. Some kids have trouble falling asleep, others are staying up too late doing homework or texting friends, and many children don’t have set bedtimes. Highly caffeinated beverages such as Red Bull or Mountain Dew make the situation worse.

Just 10 years ago, the big concern was kids having TVs in their rooms. Now, many kids have portable media devices.

“I think media of all kinds is a problem, and I think it’s harder to control because there are so many different ways to stare at a screen. And staring at a screen … is going to interfere with sleep to some extent,” says Owings Mills pediatrician Dr. Rona Stein.

Dr. Stein, of Valley Pediatrics, estimates that 30 to 40 percent of kids have sleep problems at some point in their lives.

The impact is huge.

Sleep-deprived teenagers may have more risk-taking behaviors. Sleepy youngsters can’t think as clearly and may have trouble concentrating. Lack of sleep impacts their problem-solving skills. It can make them moody and irritable. It can cause headaches or muscle aches.

Kids who haven’t had enough sleep “have a harder time concentrating, a harder time learning new material, a harder time being nice to their friends, so it can lead to social problems because they’re just irritable,” Dr. Stein points out.

Behaviors resulting from a lack of sleep can mimic the behaviors in kids who have Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), so if your child is having these symptoms, it’s important to work with your pediatrician to pinpoint the cause.

“I think it’s important for parents to realize that school-age children need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep, and adolescents still need at least eight-and-a-half to sometimes more than nine hours of sleep,” Dr. Richter says.

Kids who don’t exercise have many more sleep problems, notes Dr. Stein, who also says that kids who spend a lot of time staring at screens are many times the ones with the least get-up-and-go.

Plus, says Dr. Stein, kids who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight. This last tidbit is the one that tends to really get parents to sit up and take notice, she notes. “Being sleep deprived makes you to crave carbs.”

Rabbi Binyomin Field, director of religious life at Beth Tfiloh High School, couldn’t agree more. He’s noticed a big increase in kids who head for his office treat jar in search of a carb boost.

Rabbi Field says as little as five or six years ago, in-school sleepiness wasn’t a particularly big problem. These days, it’s “rampant.”

“It’s pervasive,” he says, saying he also sees many kids stuck in a morning “malaise.”

“They’re not themselves,” he says.

Additionally, Rabbi Field is seeing more kids drinking coffee.

There’s a conflict here for parents and educators: Parents want their kids to take challenging classes, but should that come at the expense of a good night’s sleep?

Rabbi Field sometimes has to touch base with parents about their sleepy kids. Other times, parents will raise the issue with him. They’ll call and say their kids are staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning.

“Sometimes, it’s not because there’s so much homework but it’s time management,” he notes. Instead of staying up all night, the rabbi advises students to set an end time for their homework. “Whatever they finish, they finish, and what they don’t finish, we’ll deal with it the next day,” he says.

Also, says Monroe, for some kids, powering through on inadequate sleep has become a sort of misguided cultural badge of achievement.

“Somewhere along the line, sleep, which we biologically need, has been equated with sloth, and it’s absolutely ridiculous,” he says.

Underlying medical reasons could also be a reason why your child isn’t sleeping well. For example, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, depression, ADHD or sleep apnea all impact one’s sleep.

If your child is falling asleep on his own, is waking up relatively ready to start the day and is not falling asleep during the day, Dr. Stein says everything is probably fine. If he’s not, it’s worthwhile getting serious about good sleep hygiene, which includes keeping the room dark, a set bedtime and having media-free quiet time before bed (those same rules also apply to adults).

Pediatricians say many families give their children melatonin. Dr. Stein says studies on melatonin have shown that it’s safe and can be helpful in the short term. Other families give their kids Benadryl, which works for a couple of nights but is also effective in the short term.

Whatever grade your kids are in, it’s a good idea to start easing them into an earlier bedtime a week or so before the start of school.

“If they’ve been staying up late, gradually move their bedtime and wake times earlier,” advises Dr. Stein.

And never assume that it’s too late to get your teenager to change his or her ways.

“No pediatrician will ever tell you it’s too late to do anything,” says Dr. Richter. “I think the longer the problem [has existed], it may be harder to change, but it doesn’t mean you should give up.”

In the meantime, Monroe says he’s modified his teaching style to make his classes more interactive in hopes of keeping his students engaged and alert. Hopefully, it means he won’t have to resort to dropping any more books to wake up sleeping scholars.

Amy Landsman is a local freelance writer.

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School Choice

Yitzchak Oshry is preparing for his sophomore year  at Baltimore Polytechnic  Institute. He and his parents say choosing public school was a tough decision but has been well worth it. (David Stuck)

Yitzchak Oshry is preparing for his sophomore year at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He and his parents say choosing public school was a tough decision but has been well worth it.
(David Stuck)

“My son is happy for the first time in years — and engaged and intellectually stimulated.”

That is a message that Aleeza Oshry wants parents to hear.

Oshry moved her son, Yitzchak, 14, to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute’s Ingenuity Project for the 2012-2013 school year. She says for the past decade she has been struggling to find him the right environment, a place where he could fit in and also learn material that plays to his strengths.

The problem in the past was that the Oshrys, an Orthodox family, felt obligated to send their child to a Jewish day school. No matter which school they tried, however, there was not a good fit. Oshry sought advice from community leaders, colleagues and friends. The sad part, she says, is that no advice was available.

“We were not given options,” says Oshry. “Actually, we were told we could not choose this for our kid.”

Oshry says that in her more insular Orthodox community, she has been ridiculed and mocked for her decision to move her child to a public school environment, despite the fact that she supplements his secular education with after-school Torah learning and provides a wholesome environment at home.

“The reaction we have gotten from people literally is we are destroying his yiddishkeit,” says Oshry. “The concern is that things from the [Poly] community will rub off on him, things that are not necessarily positive.”

But Oshry decided to gamble. She says Yitzchak, who is not a social sponge but has Asperger’s and is much more focused on his academic pursuits, has thrived at Poly. She can see where some parents might be worried, she says, but she thinks that a parent has to know his or her child and choose a fitting environment.

“We have seen from our side only positive growth,” says Oshry.

Yitzchak smiles broadly when he thinks about his school. He says he made friends, though “I am not a very social person.” He notes how high the expectations are at Poly and how much he enjoys the challenge. The only downside: “I need to make up work for the Jewish holidays I take off.”

Yitzchak says he gets a lot of questions about his religion from his peers. And, “I like answering them.”

Jewish Community Services’ Joan Grayson Cohen says each child’s needs — educational and emotional — need to be taken into account when choosing a school.

“Not every child is a fit for every school,” says Cohen.

She says the family values — such as religious values — should be taken into account when selecting the right school environment. She explains that it can be harder for a child to make friends if he or she is around people with very dissimilar backgrounds. The most important piece is to balance the parents’ needs with the child’s needs and to make sure the child is getting what he or she needs to be successful in the future.

“Just because a child is in a situation that is not ideal,” Cohen cautions, “does not meant there will be permanent repercussions. However, there are things that can cause permanent potential problems, for example, learning issues. If learning issues are not identified, then a child won’t reach his maximum learning potential.”

Additionally, the child may gain a dislike of school and become less engaged from the academic environment, which will affect college choice as well as occupation choice.

Also, if the environment is too challenging, or if a child is bullied, this could have long-term impact on a child’s self-esteem and self-image.

“This can affect the type of relationships they have in the future and how they feel about it themselves,” she says.

For Tanya Ruttenberg, the issues Cohen raised and finances played a factor in sending daughter Yocheved (Kim), 12, to the International baccalaureate program at The Mount Washington School. She says the teachers there have been “amazing.”

She says there have been challenges for her daughter, who has not made a tremendous number of friends in her new school. Yocheved is used to faster-paced environments (she formerly went to Yeshivat Rambam) and finds that some of the children misbehave and waste time. Nonetheless, she says, on the whole the children are good kids, and she thinks it has been a good experience.

Unlike Oshry, Ruttenberg says she didn’t experience the same put-off from the Orthodox community when she made the decision to move her daughter. She says her friends were more like, “do what works for you,” but she knows that may also be because she is a single mother, who, even as a professional, struggles to afford tuitions for three children.

“You have to consider what is important to you,” says Ruttenberg. “You also need your kids to feel comfortable.”

Read more parenting advice from JCS.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

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Out Of Bounds

081613_insider_out_of_boundsIt could start with a pat on the back, a hug, even a high-five. These seemingly innocent gestures, under appropriate circumstances, can serve as encouragement and congratulations for child athletes.

But for adults with sinister intentions, these actions can be the springboards into “grooming” the children under their supervision into sexual relationships.

“It’s called ‘blurring the boundaries,’” says Lisa Dever, who heads the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s sex offense and child abuse division. “You’re taking normal situations and seeing exactly how far you can get, … to see how that kid can react.” One in four girls and one in six boys will be victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18, according to Adam Rosenberg, executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center; 90 percent of those abuses are committed by someone the child knows and trusts.

While the coach-athlete relationship is only one of many that can lead to these unfortunate situations, there are unique aspects to these relationships that give predators opportunities to find their prey.

While there are dimensions such as changing clothes in the locker room, traveling and staying in hotel rooms and teachable moments, where physical contact is essential, coaches also carry the respect and admiration that comes with being experts in their sport.

Nancy Aiken says it is important for schools to do “deep” background checks before making a hire.Nancy Aiken (Kirsten Beckerman)

Nancy Aiken says it is important for schools to do “deep” background checks before making a hire.Nancy Aiken
(Kirsten Beckerman)

“That can set the table for abuse to occur, and there are times in this culture that we tend to idolize those who are good at sports,” says Nancy Aiken, executive director at CHANA (Counseling, Helpline & Aid Network for Abused Women). “Assuming that a coach is someone who possesses strength and knowledge in a sport, a young person will idolize them and want to be liked by them … it’s seductive to have an adult paying attention to you.”

Perpetrators will often test the water with multiple potential victims and see which ones will allow them to gradually push the boundaries.

“A charismatic adult can make a young person feel important and can utilize an intimate nonsexual relationship to gain trust and set up a dependency that precedes sexual contact,” Aiken says. “All teenagers want to do something behind their parents’ back. They’re curious about sex.”

Predators will make it into almost a game, where it’s a secret between the adult and the victim, Dever says. The adult also coaxes the victim into sympathy by saying things like they could get fired or in trouble if the victim speaks out. Combine that with alibis the adult created, and it can be hard for a victim to come forward and get somewhere.

“The perpetrator spends a lot of time setting the stage so that when questions are raised, he has already choreographed the answers,” Aiken says.

Rosenberg says there are also opportunistic pedophiles who can fall into the situation when an attraction goes too far, and they cross lines without even considering the inappropriateness of the situation.

Sexual abuse knows no geographical or cultural boundaries. And yes, it even affects the Jewish community.

The topic sent a wave of alarm through Brooklyn’s Orthodox community in December 2011 when the Forward requested the names of 85 Orthodox Jews arrested on sex charges in the previous three years. A large number of Orthodox Jews had previously been arrested for sex crimes under a new initiative.

Baltimore’s Jewish community was shocked earlier this year when a physical education teacher at the Day School at Baltimore Hebrew and former dean of students and director of athletics at the Shoshana S. Cardin School was charged with child abuse for an alleged sexual relationship that started when the victim was a minor at the Cardin School and lasted about four years. Foye Minton, 34, was arrested on Jan. 10 at the day school.

Experts say the Jewish community needs to accept that these incidents do go on in our families and synagogues in order to open up a dialogue.

“Within the Jewish community … there’s a concept of ‘you don’t go outside the community, we take care of it ourselves,’” says Joyanna Silberg, executive vice president of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence. “The other thing about the Jewish community is that … we have a sense of our own privilege and think things [like sexual abuse] don’t happen in our community.”

Silberg recalls a study that surveyed women going to a mikvah in Israel and found that roughly 25 percent of them had been sexually abused, a figure that matches up with the percentage of women in the U.S. who have been sexually abused.

But it’s not just the Jewish population that has some difficulty discussing this topic. The victims go through unknowable struggles coming to terms with what happened and reporting it, if they even do report it.

Victims face all kinds of obstacles and even resistance. Teammates, other adults and sometimes even parents might not believe that their beloved coach is a sex offender. The victims fear betraying someone they admire and sometimes blame themselves for the situation. Sometimes they simply don’t have the words to explain what happened.

“Most children don’t know what to do when confronted with their first sexual experience, especially when approached by a person in a power situation. It’s extremely confusing and they don’t know what do to do,” Silberg says, adding that the victims rationalize and justify the situation as it escalates. “… When it gets to the point that it truly has invaded boundaries, the children feel it is their fault because they never said no.”

Even if a case goes to court — less than 10 percent of reported cases are successfully prosecuted, Silberg says — the victim has to testify and relive the entire situation.

“You might lose, and for the kid who suffered through this — and came forward and said they were abused, got somebody arrested and turned their school upside down — the kid feels terrible,” Rosenberg says. The results are all over the map because there is often not a lot of evidence in sexual abuse cases, he says.

Those who work with victims of sexual abuse say education is the key to stopping these situations before they start.

“The problem gets solved when you walk people through situations, and you tell people what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate,” Rosenberg says.

This method should be applied to all adults with authority over kids, from teachers to coaches, he says.

Parents should look for unusual behavior in their children and not be afraid to talk to them about sexual abuse, Silberg says. Parents should also hold athletic programs to a high standard and make sure environments are created that are hostile to pedophiles and safe for children, Rosenberg says.

Aiken said it’s important to do deep background checks on coaches and as much “legal stalking” as possible. Children should also be taught to be comfortable speaking to a non-involved adult and not feel like they are betraying a friend by reporting abuse.

At Baltimore’s Talmudical Academy, a policy and a new position were put in place several years ago to ensure that students, faculty and teachers could report any suspicion of abuse or neglect comfortably. The school created an ombudsman position to serve as a liaison between the students, teachers, faculty and administration.

“The policy is one that makes it clear, if somebody has a reason to believe that there has been an occurrence of abuse and neglect, [they] will have the obligation to make a report with the school,” said Neal Strum, an attorney who is on the school’s executive board and served as its first ombudsman. The school reports incidents to the authorities, even if there is doubt cast on the allegations, and does its own investigation, if necessary, as well. Strum said several other schools have adopted similar policies modeled after TA’s.

While most point to a multidimensional education as the best way to stop sexual abuse, Rosenberg believes it needs to begin with those who have the power to start and stop these situations from occurring.

“The adults are where [we’ve] got to start,” he says.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

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Waving Goodbye To The ‘Summer Of Yes’

2013_insider_aaron_shillerEach Year, as summer draws to a close and the school year is upon us, I find myself with bittersweet emotions. I love the way in summertime I can enjoy the company of my children without a report or project looming. The responsibility of homework is replaced by sunscreen and popsicles. Summertime parenting is wonderful because it’s so much easier to say yes in the summertime. Yes, you can have a sleepover. Yes, you can stay up late. Yes, you can have ice cream for dinner.

The week that follows the last day of the school term — the transition into the “summer of yes” — is a confusing time for kids. As I watch a late-night Orioles game with my son, Matan, I know he is wondering why he hasn’t been sent to bed.

“A three-run lead is not safe from a Jim Johnson implosion,” I tell him. “We’d better watch this through.”

Matan is stunned when I make no mention of bedtime, and I enjoy watching him head to bed on his own when the game is over.

By mid-July, the universal sign that summer is coming to an end — a fully stocked back-to-school aisle — appears. I first notice it at Target when we are shopping for last-minute camp items. The kids are surprised and a bit disappointed by this sight, but I assure them there is still plenty of summertime left. I point out that Shoppers supermarket puts out its Passover food well before Purim. My daughter, Emuna, deduces that stores keep a different calendar than we do.

Now that school is imminent, the shopping has to be done. I’m all for having well-prepared students, and I follow the supply lists from the teachers even though the 2-inch ring binders that I purchased last year came home in June untouched. Unfortunately, last year’s binders can’t be used this year, since now the teacher is asking for the 3-inch variety.

In the store it’s a war zone, piles of notebooks are strewn about, many of them adorned with playful kittens or Justin Bieber with the words “Hot Stuff” printed below his chest. Boxes of rulers and glue sticks intermingle, book bags that were once neatly displayed on wall hooks are littered across the floor. I notice a woman who has the same list.

“Have you seen the 3-inch binders?” I ask. An instant kinship is formed since, indeed, misery loves company.

“I found some at Office Depot,” she says, in a hushed voice.

Now the kids, each with shopping carts of their own, appear. I look over the supplies piled high in their carts: a box of 60 oil pastels, a package of pencils with two different colored tips and a plastic Powerpuff Girls book bag are only a few of the items they have collected and deem essential. I quietly take out my “no” and dust it off. The “summer of yes” has officially come to an end.

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