Monthly Archives: February 2013

Mathematics in Gym Class?

What is your son doing in his gym class? Are he and his classmates running around, learning sports and playing games? And are they reviewing vocabulary words and math concepts as they play? Some schools in the 45 states which have adopted more rigorous English and Math standards are bringing this intensified curriculum into gym class as well. In a West Palm Beach Florida classroom profiled in a recent New York Times article found here, the gym teacher had her students counting by fours during their exercise routine, running math based relay games, and learning vocabulary words as they did push ups. In Chesapeake, VA, students count in other languages as they do their exercises. D.C. schools have added health and fitness questions to their year-end standardized test. The push to add an academic component to gym class isn’t solely born of a need to ramp up the rigor. Schools claim that making the class more academic justifies keeping gym class at a time when non academic courses (like art and music) are disappearing from the curriculum to make room for additional core coursework.

But some schools are resisting adding this academic element to gym class, believing that the national focus on childhood obesity and the diminishing recess time in schools suggest that a gym class which focuses on physical activity is important to preserve. Moreover, studies have shown that regular physical exercise can help children to focus, concentrate and learn. Janis Andrews, the Palm Beach district chief academic officer, would agree, noting in the article: “Some children just learn better through more movement than they do sitting at a desk. Some kids are going to have that ‘aha’ moment not in the classroom, but the light bulb is going to finally go on outside.” Those of us with active boys would readily agree that they need and benefit from every possible opportunity to run around during their school day.

Some parent’s perspective on the importance of a “gym only” gym class will depend upon their own gym class experiences. If gym class for you meant the chance to finally race around and let off steam, or hone/show off your skills on the court or the field, then you may consider this concept of including academics both unnecessary and unwelcome. If you (like me) were more on the slow or uncoordinated side in school, and/or regularly the last chosen for any game or sport, perhaps the concept of learning something else during gym may sound like a more productive (and less discouraging) use of time.

GCP readers, what do you think? First of all, how much do you know about what goes on in your son’s (or daughter’s) p.e. class? Are their schools trying to incorporate academic instruction into the gym class, and if so, is it at the expense of the physical exercise? As the mother of athletic, active boys, but who certainly understands (from personal experience) that not every student falls into that category, I’d rather have gym time include more activities designed to make everyone enthusiastic about moving around and enjoying the process of getting physically fit (not just the budding athletes) rather than have the students solving math problems and learning vocabulary words during gym. Your thoughts?


Filed under Academics, Math, Sports

Parenting a Potential Star Athlete

Today’s New York Times has two articles in its sports section, each featuring a talented young Black male basketball player with NBA dreams. Jahlil Okafor, a 17 year old high school junior at Whitney Young High School in Chicago who stands at 6 feet 11 inches, is considered the top high school player in national rankings. He was offered a college scholarship when he was in the 8th grade, and now the best college coaches in the country are all offering scholarships. His story, found here, is one of hard work, focus, composure under pressure, and grace.

Some measure of that grace, composure and determination was born of tragedy: At 11, he watched his mother collapse and ultimately succumb to complications of bronchitis. He coped with this loss by burying himself in basketball, shooting outdoors for hours on end to avoid thinking about his mom. Fortunately, his father, Chukwudi Okafor, a former college basketball player (as was his wife), who works as an assistant for his son’s high school team, has been there every step of the way to guide him with respect to basketball and life in general. When Jahlil couldn’t find classmates and friends to play with him in the neighborhood because he was too tall and by his own admission “super competitive”, his father took him to neighboring courts and watched him play with the older players. While the elder Okafor has always encouraged his son’s ambitions, he didn’t push. As Jahlil explained, “He might tell me a few things, like put some more arc on your shot. But he wasnt coaching me, making me do push-ups every night, or anything like that.” His father confirmed that he doesn’t want his son to get lost in the all-encompassing world of basketball. He elaborated: “As far as coaches, media, recruiting? He doesn’t owe anyone anything, and I tell him that all the time.” Jahlil is a good student with an interest in British Literature, who blogs about his basketball recruiting experience for USA Today.

Years away from any college recruiter’s grasp is fifth grader Julian Newman, an 11-year-old, 4 feet 5 inch young man who plays with on his Orlando Florida school’s high school varsity team. He began this season on the middle school team, but was promoted to varsity when he scored first 69, then 91 points in games. Since joining the varsity squad he has led the team, which is coached by his father Jamie, from being at the bottom of its low-level league to dominance, with an 18-5 record. As the article found here details, Julian, whose basketball YouTube clips have attracted over a million viewers and interest from around the world, is obsessed with improving his skills. He sinks 100 free throws, 200 floaters and 200 jump shots every day, which can easily take three hours or more. Julian does not recall ever taking off more than two straight days from this regimen. His parents Jamie and Vivian Newman, who met when they were point guards for their rival Orlando high schools, consider Jamie a self driven prodigy. They describe him as a straight A student, motivated to study by their requirement of “homework before hoops” (although this has led him to rush through homework at recess so that he could get to the court after school).

Julian’s father, like Jahlil’s dad, saw the athletic potential in his son early and encouraged it. He gave his son regulation sized balls at age 3 and encouraged him to play against older boys in recreational leagues. While Julian’s chances at a professional career on the court can’t be predicted, both because of his age and his genetic makeup (with parents standing 5 foot 6 inches and 5 feet even, he is not expected to grow to 6 feet), this does not diminish his father’s hoop dreams. Says the proud father about his son: “He can do stuff that Chris Paul and Derrick Rose can’t.” Jamie has no plans to leave his job as coach of the high school team. And notwithstanding his strong interest in Jamie’s development as a player, he intends to keep his son at the school with him. His rationale: “if you can play, you can play. If it’s right for you academically and socially, by all means, stay there”.

Two young basketball players with great potential in the sport. Two fathers who have mentored their sons from an early age about the process of pursuing excellence. While it would have been good to learn more about their academic interests and focus in these articles, it appears that both boys are thus far on track to achieve on both sides of the student-athlete equation. I must confess that I wince a bit to read of a father entertaining thoughts of an NBA career for his 11-year-old, and hope that his zealous support of his son’s obsession doesn’t cloud his judgment with respect to his son’s academic and athletic potential. But it is insightful to view how both men have dealt with the challenges (and benefits) of raising sons with early signs of prodigious talent. And I have to say, it is great to read about these boys being guided by their strong, focused and loving fathers. GCP readers, how do you help your sons manage their sports superstar aspirations (regardless of their talent) and keep their eyes on the academic prize?? Details, please!

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Filed under Parents, Sports

Reflections of a Divorced GCP Dad: On Being There

Today’s post comes courtesy of GCP Dad Michael Mayfield, who lives in North Carolina and has two college-aged children.

I never envisioned myself married to an incredible woman and having two amazing children. It seemed like too much responsibility. Seems so even now – so much to teach and instill. Too many mistakes were made, and maybe that’s why I lost the incredible woman. Fortunately, the four of us have managed to love and support each other over these twenty-four years.

After the divorce, it always made sense to stay where my children were. I would never have wanted them to say, “He wasn’t there.”

I recently asked my college aged son what he remembers about my impact upon his upbringing and he said,“Your presence was definitely felt. You were there.”

My biological father wasn’t a presence in my upbringing. I never had an issue with this because my mother and stepfather did a great job with my siblings and me. I don’t know what I missed from not knowing my father any better, but I believed that I had experienced enough of a paternal presence to be a good father to my children.

For parent/teacher meetings, award ceremonies, Spelling Bees, recitals, “24 Math” competitions, and awards, I was there.

In the seventh grade, my son took the SAT, and scored higher than I ever did in high school. At the year-end awards assembly, fifty-two middle school students were recognized by their teachers as “Most Promising.” In a school with a nearly thirty percent minority population, only four of the “Most Promising” were children of color. Though he was a great and dynamic student, never missed a day of school and played on several teams, my son was not among the four.

A few awards later, the principal walked onto the stage to announce that six students had brought honor to Guilford County, North Carolina for ranking among the top two percent in the nation on the SATs. And one of those students attended this school.

He called my son to the stage.

The message that this assembly sent to children of color in the auditorium was disheartening, but the message that it sent to his perplexed White classmates and their parents was just as bad, if not worse. The middle school teachers didn’t see the promise in my child nor many other children of color. My son, whom the principal just identified as one of the highest achieving students in the county and the country, was not considered to be among the “Most Promising” by his teachers.

It was a teachable moment and I was there.

For bumps, bruises, practices and games, I was there.

In ninth grade, my son broke his leg in a freak accident while he was warming up for his second high school basketball game. I took the crestfallen ‘baller’ to the car after he discovered his season was over. For a few moments, I was “Daddy.” Not “Dad” – “Daddy.” He remembers that I was there (and that I slammed his finger in the car door as we went to get the declarative x-ray, but that’s another story).

Prior to his freshman year of college, my son spent six weeks in the Alaskan Wilderness for Leadership Development. With no cell or electronic contact, he was roughing it. We did not speak to him for most of his sojourn. Then, one morning at 2 a.m., when his mom and sister were fast asleep I got THE CALL. Excited and unguarded, he joyfully told me about his adventure. It was a vulnerable and reachable moment. He reached out for me. I was there.

And I wouldn’t have missed any of it for the world.

There are always things that I wished I had done better or differently. There are things that my son and daughter may want to approach differently than I have. But I’ve tried to be an accessible model and to teach them what I’ve learned in life.

Most importantly, I have always committed to being there. And I always will.

Michael Mayfield’s son Brandon is a Morehead-Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His daughter Lauren is a sophomore at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Filed under Guest Bloggers, Parents

Should You Redshirt Your Son For Kindergarten?

During February and March, K-12 independent schools across the country will be notifying parents about whether their sons or daughters have landed a spot in the upcoming kindergarten class. (Good luck to parents awaiting this news.) One of the issues which frequently comes up as parents consider applying their children to an independent school kindergarten is when they should apply. If their son has a Spring or Summer birthday, and applies in the year he will be turning 5, this is likely to make him one of the younger children in the class. If he has a fall birthday, which will cause him to miss the standard cut-off of September 1, he will have to wait another year, and will turn 6 shortly after kindergarten begins.

The park bench wisdom, especially for boys, is that it is better for your child to be among the oldest in the kindergarten class than among the youngest. Older kindergarten boys are thought to be more mature, more in control of their bodies and impulses, and better able to sit still and pay attention to what is going on in the classroom. Although the applications for many independent schools in New York City include the standard September 1 cut off, some schools may even infer during the admissions process that they are less interested in boys with birth dates in the Spring and beyond. These circumstances have led parents to promote and follow the practice of holding back or academic “redshirting” their sons who turn five well before the September 1 cut off.

But is being the oldest always the right answer for your son? Research studies are inconclusive on whether starting kindergarten at 6 makes you a life long better student. A 2008 Harvard University study, concludes that while in the early grades there is a strong positive relationship between a child’s age and his performance relative to his peers, there is little evidence that being older than your classmates has any long-term positive effects on IQ or educational attainment.

Donna McClintock, COO of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. and the mother of three, wrote an article for recently in which she urges parents to focus more on their child’s needs and development than on automatically following the current redshirting trend. In her article, found here, she gives parents a series of questions to consider when thinking about redshirting. Among them are : “If you hold your child back, what will he do during this time of rapid growth and learning?” It is critical that he continues to be inspired, challenged and motivated during this time of rapid growth and learning. If your child stays in a pre school program for that additional year, make sure that the program will provide actual age appropriate learning experiences in the classroom, and won’t just re-do the 4’s program. She also asks parents to consider whose needs are actually being served by having your child sit out a year: Are you doing it because all your friends are, or because he is likely to perform better in sports, or because you are not quite ready for him to start school? These reasons may ultimately serve you more than they are serving your son.

We faced this dilemma years ago with my sons born in July and August. Although we heard the park bench perspective loudly and clearly, we decided to send them on to kindergarten as young 5 year olds rather than wait out the year for them to start at 6. We felt that they were ready to move on developmentally, and had the attention span and control to make it through a day of school. (It helped that we took their preschool’s all-day option in the 4’s program, which made them comfortable with the longer school day before they got to kindergarten.) This did make each of them one of the youngest in their grades in the early years. But as the years progressed, and students from other schools joined their class, they were no longer the youngest, as public schools generally follow a December 1 cut off. Moreover, we have seen that they have adjusted well in their grades with no learning gaps. When they were in the early grades, they complained a bit about being the youngest (which was most obvious when birthdays were celebrated in class). But as they reached middle school, and I watched some of the older boys struggle with the effects of being much more physically developed than their classmates, I understood that both sides of this issue had its challenges.

As Donna McClintock notes, the most important thing a parent can do when making this decision is to carefully consider your child’s individual needs and development rather than blindly follow a trend. What works for your friend’s child should not dictate what will work for yours. GCP readers, if you faced this issue, what did you do? Did you hold back your son, on send him on, and what was his experience in either case?


Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5

Help Our Sons Learn our History: Black History Month

It’s February. Black History Month. While many of us wonder why only one month out of the year (and the shortest one at that) is designated for paying national attention to African-American contributions to American history, let us put our cynicism aside, and embrace the many opportunities available this month to help our children learn about our history.

Our children are growing up in an era where our President is African-American and in many instances African-American culture is the dominant culture (e.g., hip hop). This “Tanning of America”, as supreme marketer Steve Stoute calls it, can lead some children to believe that it is no longer important to focus on race or understand our unique history in the United States. It is up to us as parents to disabuse them of this notion. We need them to understand that knowing the triumphs and the tragedies of our history and understanding the critical role that Black people played in the shaping of America is important, inspirational and essential. They may hear more about Black History in school in February, but they should hear about it from us all year round.

These paragraphs began a GCP February 2012 post, and the perspective bears repeating. Here are some ways to explore and share Black History with your sons (and daughters) this month:

Do You Know Your Black History?: Starting today, the Root is featuring a slideshow called “Do You Know Your Black History?”, found here, which showcases highlights from Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s weekly column, “100 Amazing Facts About the Negro”. Scroll through these slides with your children to discover the answers to questions such as “Who was the First Black American?”, “Which Slave Wrote His Way Out of Slavery?”, “How Many Slaves Landed in the U.S.”, and “What Happened to George Washington’s Runaway Slave Henry?”. Be sure to return to the Root each week for the latest fascinating fact from Professor Gates.

Gordon Parks Centennial: Although the centennial celebration of internationally renowned photographer, writer and filmmaker Gordon Parks officially occurred in 2012 (His birthday was November 30, 1912) centennial exhibitions of his work can still be viewed. If you are in or around New York City, check out the Gordon Parks: A Harlem Family exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Park’s black and white photographs of the Fontenelle family, whose lives Parks documented as part of a 1968 Life magazine photo essay on poverty, will be on exhibit until June 30, 2013. You can also head to the International Center of Photography in midtown Manhattan and see the public art installation “Gordon Parks 100 Years” in the windows of the museum. This large scale photo mural and slideshow of more than 50 of Parks’ photographs will be on display until May 5, 2013. Wherever you are, you can order “Collected Works: Gordon Parks” the pricey ($285 on Amazon) but worth it 5 volume set of Park’s works beautifully reproduced by renowned German art book publisher Steidl. If you are not inclined to purchase, ask your local library how soon they will have a copy.

Black History Month Bios: Bio., one of the A+E Digital Networks, is featuring their extensive collection of biographies of Black Americans on their website this month. Check out their main website here, and Bio.classroom here, and be prepared to spend a good bit of time exploring this site.

Time for Kids: Black History Month
: Time Magazine for Kids has created a mini-site in honor of Black History Month. In of their features they ask several African American leaders to name the historical figure which most inspired them. You can find this and more here.

GCP readers, please send in any additional resources which you can recommend.

Celebrate Black History this month and every month!!


Filed under Holidays