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Are Our Children in a “Race to Nowhere” Through the Education System?

A few months ago, the mom taxi was running strong. One of us had at least one thing to do every single night of the week. Trying to schedule a play date or just take a breath was next to impossible.

I decided I was running my family into the ground. We were all headed for burnout. Gymnastics, Girl Scouts, sports, music, dance…it was all looped in a never-ending schedule.

I realized it was time to find a way to actually breathe. Our schedule needed to breathe. We needed to breathe. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded, but things have improved. Each child can only commit to two activities. We are still running three days a week, but it’s not insane.

When is enough, enough? When do our children have enough enrichment activities along with schoolwork, homework and play time?

Yes play time.

A new documentary, Race to Nowhere, has made me stop and think about how I am preparing my children for life after high school.

When should your child get a cell phone?

My 8-year-old daughter recently informed me she’s getting a cell phone when she’s 10. As usual, she’s not thinking about the fact that her dad and I are the ones who must agree to this, pay for it, etc. But she says there are kids at her elementary school who do use cell phones – even fellow third-graders. What could a third-grader possibly need a phone for? On a recent road trip, our daughter texted for the first time with a 13-year-old friend who was with us. 

Vaccination education: know your options

The first vaccine was brought to the U.S. in 1800 according to, and now, more than 200 years later, we have more vaccines than we can count on two hands.

Many of us, myself included have received vaccines or painfully watched our children receive shots with no questions asked. But should we be asking questions?

Vaccinations have become a controversial issue in

Mama Goes to Mom Congress–An Insider’s Look

This year I began my education activism in earnest. My tipping point was when my youngest daughter’s school defended their worksheet-based, everyone does the same thing, curriculum. After being rebuffed by the school, I used my blog to express my feelings. And, I’ll tell you – that got their attention, even though that was not my intention, and the attention was not positive. As a result, I felt helpless to make positive change, and I didn’t know what to do differently.

So, it was with enormous anticipation that I attended Parenting Magazine’s second Mom Congress on Education and Learning, representing Colorado. I wondered, about making change in the school system. I wanted to know how do I stand up for my kids? And, is it possible to do it without being labeled a trouble maker? Or “that” mom?

So last week, Mom Congress brought together 51 amazing mom-delegates from all over the country, each passionate about different aspects of education – some bullying, some

Two Denver schools try group approach to teaching reading

Once a week, for at least an hour, middle school students at two Denver public schools are working in groups to try a new way of reading.

“I have a clunk,” Martin Luther King Jr. Early College seventh-grader Brian Estrada told his group as they read a science passage. “Gnarled limbs. I re-read the sentence. It has to mean something like not working because it says deformities. Maybe limbs that aren’t in the right place?”

The technique, called collaborative strategic reading, is being tested this year at Merrill Middle School and MLK with about half the students. It’s touted as a better way to understand reading — in particular for those learning English and students with learning disabilities.

That’s what appealed to administrators at

Getting kids to eat green — and greens

Sometimes numbers are the story, and in the case of the new dining hall addition at Kent Denver School, the numbers are impressive: landfill waste down 90 percent, standard energy costs down 42 percent, leafy vegetable consumption up 500 percent.

But here’s the bigger news: Working with local architects Semple Brown Design, the school has added to its campus an object of practical beauty and groundbreaking efficiency at a reasonable price; a space that’s inviting, well-considered and righteously self-conscious. It is a model of environmental smarts, and on track to become the first school dining facility to be certified green at the highest level — known as LEED platinum, and coveted widely — from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Built for $4.5 million, the now 20,000-square-foot cafeteria aims to educate while it feeds. Students get healthy meals, but they also get a glimpse into the circular process of food production, consumption and waste recycling. There’s something particularly green, and wholly appropriate, in the fact that students who pay $20,000 a year for tuition scrape their own dirty dishes into composting bins.

That combination of

Mama Drama: Homework H-E-Double Toothpicks!!

Dear Mama Drama:

My nine- year-old daughter takes an excessive amount of time to do her homework every day. If she would just do the work, she would be done in thirty minutes to an hour. Instead, she whines, complains, cries, fights, distracts herself, etc., for hours on end. By the time she is done we are all angry and exhausted and her self-esteem is in the toilet.

(photo credit)

She does have a significant amount of homework assigned, but it all should be work she is capable of completing on her own.  I know she needs to go out and play, but she spends so much time avoiding her work that she never gets outside.

I am at a loss and hate the way this homework issue is impacting all of us. I don’t want to bother her teachers because they always seem so busy already.

~ Homework Hating Mama

(Send your Mama Drama questions to

Dear Homework Hating:

The homework battle often feels like a big vat of quicksand for parents to fall into.  The more you struggle, the more it sucks you down.  The trick is to remember that you are responsible for providing a place and time for your daughter to do the homework, but the responsibility for completing the homework is hers.

When your daughter is feeling calm and relaxed, take time to talk with her about the homework issue. Does she feel overwhelmed by the amount of homework? Does she feel like she doesn’t have the skills to complete it independently? Is she exhausted from the school day and doesn’t have the energy to do the work? Does she need to eat before she works? Does she need to burn off some energy and play before she works? Are there too many other things going on around her while she is trying to work? Does she want more attention from you and is using this issue to get it? Having her perspective will help you understand how to support her better.

Take action on the things you have control over from this conversation such as changing the family routine, where the homework is done, creating a consistent schedule, adjusting how you respond to her, and giving her positive attention just for being her.

While you are right that teachers are busy, contacting them is a critical step that needs to be taken. If you are not communicating with them, they don’t know how much your daughter is struggling. Let them know the difficulties she is having at home and how she feels about the work. Meet with them and your daughter to create a plan to support her in being successful.

The teachers can provide an understanding about how long this amount of work takes your daughter at school and help her set expectations for how long she should work on it at home.  Based on the information you share, they may decide to modify the homework assignments for her.  They may also want to explore the possibility that other learning difficulties are impacting her ability to complete the work, especially if she is also struggling at school.

Set up a plan to reinforce her for meeting the expectations set. Your initial agreement may be recognizing her for working without all the drama you described even if she doesn’t complete the assignment. You may want to create a sticker chart at home where she works toward a special outing or activity with mom or dad or it may be something she earns at school such as lunch with her teacher or even a “homework holiday” where she has no homework for a day. Let her have input into the “rewards” and focus on ones that involve time and positive attention rather than buying material items.

Be sure to set her up for success by making the initial goals very achievable. As she becomes more successful, you can increase the expectations. Have a contingency plan for what will happen if the homework doesn’t get done as well and have this consequence occur at school.

What tricks, tips, and strategies have work for you and your child? Please share your successes!

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Free Kick-off Party “Llamapalooza” for One Book, One Denver

Denver’s Preschool One Book, One Denver kicks off another year with Llamapalooza! This year’s book selection is Is Your Mama A Llama? by author and illustrator Deborah Guarino. From April 15-30, all Denver Preschoolers will be reading this title, a perennial favorite of parents and children alike.

To celebrate, The Denver Preschool Program (DPP) and the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs (DOCA) is hosting Llamapalooza! at the Denver Central Library on Saturday, April 16 from 2-4 p.m. Join them for a fun-filled afternoon with English and Spanish-language readings by Mayor Bill Vidal and author Deborah Guarino, arts and crafts, book giveaways, and more!

And, of course it wouldn’t be Llamapalooza without llamas – meet their special guests: Mr. Magoo and Jurni. Snacks provided by McDonalds, with a special appearance by Ronald McDonald.

Date: Saturday, April 16, 2011
Time: 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Location: Denver Central Library, 10 W. 14th Ave Parkway
Cost: Free

Preschool One Book, One Denver 2011 is presented by The Denver Preschool Program (DPP) and the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs (DOCA) and features community readings across the City and County of Denver. A complete calendar of events is posted on the DPP website (

53 percent of DPS students opt out of assigned campuses

About 53 percent of the students in Denver Public Schools attend a school other than the one assigned to them, up from 34 percent in 2004. Families are exercising their school-choice options more so than in surrounding districts, where numbers are on the rise nonetheless.

In DPS, choices are plentiful, but district officials say more families would take advantage of them if they better understood their options.

“What we look for is somewhere where I can trust leaving my kids all day and where I feel I can be a part of their education,” said Armida Solis, a parent of four DPS students.

When Solis moved to the north part of the city, she tried her neighborhood school, but she eventually returned

Five groups found unique ways to cut $40M from Jeffco schools’ budget

Whacking nearly $40 million from Jefferson County Public Schools’ proposed budget last month proved no easy task.