Living History

Museum people like to say they eat and sleep their jobs.

Meet someone who actually does.

The folks who look after New Jersey’s historical structures and small museums have much in common, starting with their daily routine. They arrive at work each morning, walk up to the front door, turn a key, and then ready themselves for the day’s steady stream of visitors. One notable exception is Katherine Craig, who is in charge of the crimson-shingled mid-1700s structure located on East Jersey Street in Elizabeth.

In her case, the unlocking happens from the inside. Because Katherine Craig actually lives in Boxwood Hall. And in the museum world, this makes Craig decidedly uncommon.

 

Although Craig performs the typical, day-to-day duties of a curator—arranging displays, designing new exhibits, conducting tours and lots and lots of paperwork—her official title is caretaker. Because Boxwood Hall is nearly 300 years old, the state requires that someone with an intimate knowledge of the house make note of (and if possible take care of) any necessary repairs—full-time, around the clock. “It is like living above the family business,” she says. “Living here makes it possible to know every nook and cranny of the house.”

This arrangement makes Craig the most-qualified person on Earth to educate people about Boxwood Hall, from groups of wide-eyed elementary schoolers to day tourists to hardcore history junkies. Not surprisingly, she has become quite adept at tailoring her tours to the age and interests of her visitors. A group of architects came just to study the building’s original door hinges and support beams, which naturally she knew plenty about. “They could give two pins about the Revolutionary War, and that’s okay!”

Craig studied biology at Rutgers before becoming a tour guide at Sandy Hook National Park. When presented with the opportunity to serve Boxwood Hall as its full-time, live-in guardian, her first thought was, I can do that!

The Rest Is History…Literally

Vinny Fleming

Impressed by the long list of prominent and influential Americans who lived in and visited Boxwood Hall, Katherine Craig applied for and got the job in 1981. She was also intrigued by the ways in which Boxwood Hall changed with the times, putting on different faces to preserve itself and its legacy, and decided to turn its evolution into storytelling opportunities.

The earliest chapter of Boxwood Hall’s story dates back to 1750, when it was built for 40-year-old Samuel Woodruff, one of 13 children born to Captain Joseph Woodruff, who moved from Long Island to New Jersey as a young man and settled in current-day Cranford. At the time of construction, Samuel was serving as the second mayor of Elizabeth (then known as Elizabethtown), an office he would hold for 14 years. Upon his demise in 1768, Samuel passed Boxwood Hall to his son, John, who in turn put the property up for auction, in 1768. By this point, Elizabethtown had become a well-established and prosperous city, with a population of perhaps 2,000 people. The prestige associated with owning one of the most important homes in one of Colonial America’s most important towns had particular appeal to the winning bidder, a 28-year-old lawyer named Elias Boudinot (above).

The Boudinots, a Huguenot family that fled religious persecution in France in the 1680s, had built an impressive fortune as merchants and silversmiths. Growing up in Philadelphia, Elias was a neighbor and friend of Benjamin Franklin. However, Boudinot business interests had not fared well in the 1760s. Elias figured that buying Boxwood Hall was a prudent first step on the way to rebuilding his family’s reputation. Little did he suspect how prominent the Boudinot name would soon become.

Elias was already moving in impressive circles. He had studied law at Princeton under Richard Stockton, who would add his signature to the Declaration of Independence a few years later. Stockton was married to Annis Boudinot, Elias’s older sister. Elias, in turn, married Hannah Stockton (left), Richard’s younger sister. Elias and Hannah’s daughter, Susan, grew up to marry William Bradford, George Washington’s attorney general. When Bradford passed away in 1795, Susan moved back to Boxwood Hall. Elias, Hannah and Susan lived together in the home for another decade before moving to South Jersey.

By then, Katherine Craig points out, Boxwood Hall had already seen quite a bit of history.
In 1772, an ambitious teenager named Alexander Hamilton enrolled at the Elizabethtown Academy and lived with friends of the Boudinots, Susannah and William Livingston. Like Richard Stockton, William Livingston—a future Governor of New Jersey—would also lend his signature to the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton was a frequent visitor to Boxwood Hall, which was fast becoming a hotbed of revolutionary activity.

Elias Boudinot aligned himself with the American revolutionaries and, once the shooting started, used his wealth and influence to encourage enlistment, procure supplies and support a network of spies. General Washington tasked Elias to oversee the Continental Army’s prisoner situation and commissioned him as a colonel. In 1781, when the outcome of the war was very much in doubt, Boudinot was appointed as a delegate to the Continental Congress and, in 1782, was elected as the body’s president for a one-year term. Under the Articles of Confederation, the position was mostly ceremonial, however his time in office was notable for being America’s first peacetime president.

After the Articles were replaced by the U.S. Constitution and Washington was named President of the United States, Washington stopped at Boxwood Hall before boarding a special barge that transported him across the river to New York for his inauguration. Following three terms in the US House of Representatives, Boudinot was appointed by Washington as Director of the US Mint—an appointment that may have been influenced by his relationship with Alexander Hamilton.

Following the Boudinots’ departure in 1805, Boxwood Hall came into the possession of retiring Senator Jonathan Dayton. Dayton had succeeded Boudinot as a US representative and also served as US Speaker of the House. Dayton was a friend and classmate of Alexander Hamilton at Elizabethtown Academy and almost certainly spent time in Boxwood Hall as a young man. Elias Boudinot and Jonathan Dayton had something else in common: both claimed sizeable real estate holdings in Ohio. In fact, the Ohio city of Dayton was named for the third owner of Boxwood Hall, even though he never set foot in the Buckeye State.

As Katherine Craig points out on her tour, Dayton got into hot water later in life for his association with the notorious Aaron Burr—who was also educated down the street at Elizabethtown Academy and who killed Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken. Small world, although for Hamilton apparently not big enough.

Changing with the Times

As Elizabeth grew up around Boxwood Hall, its purpose changed. After changing hands several times in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the building became the Elizabeth Home for Aged Women. It was not a final landing place for the destitute or infirm. As Tony Soprano insisted to his mother It’s not a nursing home, it’s a retirement community! so too was Boxwood Hall. It was a place for older women of sound mind and body, who for whatever reason, couldn’t afford their own housing. The women residing there participated in a variety of social functions and produced crafts such as needlepoint and crochet that could be sold to support the home.

In 1941, the state took over operation of Boxwood Hall. Over the next few decades, generous private donations of furniture and accessories from local residents slowly filled the building. When Craig began her duties at Boxwood Hall, the antiques were jumbled throughout the various rooms, without much rhyme or reason. But Craig instantly saw the potential.

“When I first got there, it looked too much like a furniture store,” she recalls. “It was like the world’s biggest dollhouse. I thought each room should represent one of the different periods of its history.”
So now it does. The curated period décor, in fact, helps Craig set the scene as she moves from room to room, guiding visitors through the evolution of the historic home. On her tours, she talks about the other iterations of the mansion, including stints as a school for girls and as home to the Red Cross.

Craig also talks about the architectural history of Boxwood Hall and changes in the surrounding neighborhood. At the conclusion of her tours, you feel as if you’ve walked in the footsteps of its many residents. Which, Craig maintains, is the best takeaway: “Whether it is someone famous, infamous or almost forgotten, when we look back, we are talking about human beings, not cardboard cut-outs.”

Editor’s Note: That Boxwood Hall is standing at all is a testament to the people of Elizabeth. Long before Craig arrived, the structure fell into disrepair and was slated for demolition. A group of citizens raised the funds needed to buy and renovate the property, and then deeded it to the state so it could be run as a museum. Boxwood Hall is open to visitors Monday thru Friday from 9:00 to 5:00, with an hour break from noon to 1:00. The museum is closed on weekends because Katherine Craig has a life, too.

 

Underwater New Jersey

What lies beneath may surprise you.

When the world imagines New Jersey, it pictures the opening drive from The Sopranos, an hours-long Bruce Springsteen concert, prizefights in Atlantic City, Tilly’s grin and the Asbury Park Boardwalk, Jersey Shore the reality show and Jersey Shore the beloved summer destination. New Jerseyans know better—there is a lot more to the state than meets the eye. For instance, we are surrounded by water on three sides, not just one, and our lakes and rivers offer endless opportunities for recreation. Something New Jerseyans may not know is that, under the surface of these picturesque bodies of water, there is a world of forgotten history, hidden secrets, and tantalizing clues to the past.

The Ice Age is a great place to begin our deep dive. During this period in Earth’s history, the frigid climate trapped a lot of the planet’s water in massive ice sheets, which in turn led to significantly lower sea levels—as low as 400 feet or more. The Atlantic coast extended far beyond what we now think of as the Jersey Shore. The Hudson River, meanwhile, didn’t end at Staten Island; it continued to cut through the exposed land for hundreds of miles, creating canyon three-quarters of a mile deep. We know it as the Hudson Canyon, a favorite fishing spot that also happens to be the largest known underwater canyon in the world. Too bad no one was around to see it back then.

Off the Hook

Guy Fleming

Well, hang on a minute. Do we know with absolute certainly that this land was unpopulated? The Ice Age ended and ocean levels began rising rapidly around 11,500 years ago. There is compelling evidence that humans had reached the Atlantic coast by then, which might have been 100 or more additional miles to the east. Called Paleo Indians by anthropologists, they would have hunted various now-extinct animals, including megafauna species that include mastodons, wooly mammoth and giant ground sloths. Evidence of their actual settlements would have been wiped away by the rapid rise of the ocean. However, fossilized animal bones are occasionally recovered far off shore, confirming that what we think of as the “sea floor” was once teeming with animals in the not-too-distant past.

In the 1990s, an ambitious dredging operation took place at the northern end of the coast to replenish eroding beaches. Much of the sand scooped up from a mile or more offshore was deposited in front of the towns of Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach—where beachcombers soon discovered hundreds of human artifacts, including stone tools and projectile points that pre-date the Lenape Indians who had inhabited the area before the coming of European settlers. These items appear to have been produced by the aforementioned Paleo Indians, at an offshore site that is believed to date back at least 10,000 years. The Paleo Indians spread across North America after arriving from northeast Asia via Beringia, the Ice Age land mass now submerged below the Bering Sea. When you stand facing the ocean, holding one of these ancient artifacts in your hand, it is impossible not to wonder what else is out there under the waves.

On the Lake Front

Upper Case Editorial

New Jersey’s lakes and ponds guard their share of secrets—some ancient and others from recent history. In 1954, Gus Ohberg, owner of a Sussex County sports shop, decided to expand the small lake on his property in Vernon Township. During the dredging, one of the workers spotted a large brown bone, which turned out to be a mastodon skull. Professionals were summoned to the site and eventually they uncovered the most complete mastodon skeletons ever found. The Ohberg Mastadon—renamed “Matilda” after the bride of one of the archaeologists on the project—was reassembled in Trenton, where it remains a favorite attraction at the State Museum more than six decades later. Matilda was a young female, a teenager, whose remains were carbon-dated to around 11,000 years old—near the end of the mastodon’s reign over North America, likely due to a combination of human hunting, disease and loss of habitat brought on by the end of the Ice Age, when the glaciers that carved through the northern half of New Jersey receded. Matilda may not have been the only member of her family to perish on the Ohberg property. Indeed, rumor has it that Mastodon Lake may have more secrets to reveal.

If you enjoy a mystery, know that the Round Valley Reservoir (right) in Clinton has been called “New Jersey’s Bermuda Triangle.” Since it opened to the public in the 1970s, more than 20 people have lost their lives swimming, boating and exploring there. People can’t resist a spooky story and, indeed, some insist the reservoir is cursed. Its allure to scuba divers, however, is the town that lies beneath its 55 billion gallons of water. The reservoir was completed in 1960, submerging a small farming community in the process. The project was initiated to meet Newark’s growing demand for water and Round Valley seemed like the perfect place to locate a reservoir.

All but one county (Hunterdon, where it was located) agreed, triggering eminent domain. Appraisers were sent to evaluate the 50 or so farms in the way so that the state could make an offer to residents that they literally couldn’t refuse. Some took the money and started anew. Others used a portion of the cash to re-purchase their family homes and then dismantle and physically relocate them. After it was all said and done—and tens of billions of gallons of water flooded the farms—the unthinkable happened: Newark pulled out. For the uninitiated, Newark’s relationship with its water supply has been historically (and often criminally) complicated, to say the least, and remains so. Thankfully, Round Valley still serves a purpose, as the water it sends through an underground pipeline makes its way to the Raritan River. And, as mentioned, it is a popular recreation and relaxation spot. Scuba divers can explore the foundations of many houses, a church, and a school—and maybe even spot a skeleton or two. It’s like New Jersey’s own little Atlantis.

Near the Shore

Deathworm

For more than three centuries beginning in the 1600s, the New Jersey coast was known unofficially as the graveyard of ships. Today, it has more shipwrecks per mile than any other state. Prior to the dredging of the current shipping channel in the 20th century, the approach to New York harbor was not a straight shot. Ships coming north had to hug the shoreline to remain in deep water, passing uncomfortably close to Sandy Hook in order to reach the Verrazano narrows. Vessels coming across the Atlantic had to aim directly at the shore and then make a hard turn to the right to find a channel deep enough to safely make it to port. An inexperienced captain or a violent storm could run a ship onto the sandbars, where it would be smashed to pieces.

One of the oldest wrecks off the coast of New Jersey is the HMS Zebra, a 14-gun sloop built by the British in 1777 to help crush the American Revolution. Its voyage ended abruptly in the fall of 1778 when the ship ran aground near Little Egg Harbor. The Zebra was part of the naval force controlling traffic in and out of the Delaware River, ensuring a constant flow of men and material to Philadelphia, one of the key cities in the colonies.

The struggle to control the waters around Cape May had been raging for two years by then. In the summer of 1776, the American colonists earned a critical early naval victory at the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet, off Wildwood Crest. A spectacular American casualty in this meeting was the Nancy, a newly constructed brig that had sailed up from the Caribbean with a crew of 11, loaded with rum, sugar, gunpowder and arms. The British had already established a naval blockade of the area, with more than 200 cannons protecting the Delaware River. The Nancy (above) was spotted and pursued by a pair of British warships up the Jersey coast to the inlet, where it was purposely run aground so that longboats could be rowed out to salvage her precious cargo.

Winterthur Collection

The larger British vessels had to remain in deeper waters, but were close enough to fire on the salvage mission. The Nancy’s cannons fired back. When the offloading was complete, the Nancy’s flag was lowered, which the enemy took for a sign of surrender. Moments after boarding the disabled vessel, British forces discovered it was a trap: Using the Nancy’s mast as a fuse, the Americans had left 100 kegs of gunpowder aboard to blow her to splinters, sending more than a half-dozen redcoats to oblivion. The official seal of Wildwood Crest commemorates this event and the town also has a park with a memorial to those who served on the Nancy.

The wreck of the Nancy was a key moment in the early history of what was to become the U.S. Navy. Another maritime incident off the Jersey Shore gave birth to the U.S. Lifesaving Service, antecedent to the Coast Guard. A February 14th nor’easter in 1846 claimed several ships—some five off Sandy Hook alone—but it came to be known as the Minturn Storm. Among the casualties of the howling winds and driving snow was the Alabama, which ran aground near the Manasquan Inlet. A rescue attempt by ill-equipped locals failed and the crew perished. Many of the same good Samaritans turned their attention to the John Minturn, just four miles away in Mantoloking, later that day. The three-masted packet ship was carrying passengers and cargo from New Orleans when it slammed into the sand about 300 yards from shore. The rescuers worked for 18 hours and had more luck than with the Alabama, but there was still a tremendous loss of life. Only 10 people out of 50 survived and frozen bodies littered the beach.

No good deed goes unpunished and, sure enough, news stories reported that many of the bodies had their pockets turned inside out, calling the locals “barbarians.” The sensational tales triggered an investigation, which found that these people had risked their lives to save others, not to relieve corpses of their valuables. One account claimed that a body of a man wearing a gold belt buckle had washed up in Point Pleasant and was returned to his family still wearing the belt. The publicity generated by the Minturn Storm gave U.S. representative William Newell the momentum needed to push for the formation of an organized lifesaving corps. Two years later, the Newell Act called for the construction of a series of buildings to house the proper equipment to save people from wrecked ships. These Life Saving stations, which eventually popped up all over the east coast, were originally built along the shore from Sandy Hook to Little Egg Harbor, giving brave volunteers real equipment and a real chance of saving people.

Dan Lieb, president of the New Jersey Historical Divers Association, lists the John Minturn among the “Holy Grail” shipwrecks that he hopes to explore one day. Right up there with it is the New Era, which slammed into an outer sandbar off Asbury Park in 1854. Hundreds of passengers—mostly German immigrants—clung to the ship’s rigging, hoping to ride out the storm. Some made it, but most didn’t. About half of the 300-odd victims were interred in a West Long Branch cemetery, where a monument marks their mass burial. All kinds of rumors and controversy surrounded the wreck, most of which still linger to this day. Neither the John Minturn nor the New Era has been found yet—or, at least, not that Lieb knows. Often divers who discover a new wreck keep it to themselves.

By rough count, there are more than 5,000 sunken ships within 20 miles of the New Jersey coastline— hundreds of which can be explored by experienced divers. They include boats torpedoed during the two World Wars and victims of maritime collisions, an inevitable result of a busy shipping lane and unpredictable weather.

Upper Case Editorial

According to Lieb—who has completed over 2,000 dives since being certified in 1974—perhaps the most intriguing underwater wreck in New Jersey is not a shipwreck, but a trainwreck. A few miles off the coast of Long Branch, under 90 feet of water, two 1850s-era locomotives sit, nestled in the soft sand, side-by-side about 10 feet apart. Discovered in 1985, the trains are small (even for their time), weighing 15 tons apiece. The wheel layout is curious: three on each side, with the middle wheel larger than its neighbors. Their pattern of design (above) was common in England, Lieb points out, but a bell retrieved from the site raises the possibility that they may have been manufactured in Boston—or more likely the bell was added in Boston as the trains passed through New England on their way to their still-unknown final destination. It is not clear when the trains were lost, either. There are a number of scenarios that would pin their demise to a specific date, which could range from the 1850s to the end of the 19th century. For instance, the locomotives could have been headed to buyers in the Caribbean or South America, where rail systems were just being established, many decades after they were manufactured.

“Were they on their way to another country because they had become obsolete in America?” Lieb wonders. “I have visited them several dozen times. It’s quite interesting to see land-based vehicles underwater. They look so out of place.”

Another unknown is how the locomotives reached their final resting place. Obviously, they were being transported on a barge or some other vessel. But where is it? In 30-plus years of underwater exploring, no wreckage has been found. And what were the circumstances of their trip to the bottom? Did they break loose in heavy seas? Were they intentionally cut free, either to save the ship or perhaps to generate an insurance claim? Was it sabotage? None of these scenarios can account for the odd position in which they were found.

New Jersey’s waters have many more stories to tell. They provide snapshots of the past, protecting history from the elements of the surface world and preserving countless undiscovered treasures for future generations to explore. 

 

Editor’s Note: The goal of the New Jersey Historical Divers Association (njhda.org) is to identify shipwrecks and bring their history to life. For those interested in exploring underwater New Jersey, a great starting point for new divers is to join a club or associate themselves with a dive shop and ask for recommendations.

 

A Path Between Extremes

A Path Between EXTREMES

DBT treatment builds a life worth living.

By Christine Gibbs

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, thanks to the COVID pandemic, this May we are more aware than ever of the precarious state of our nation’s mental health. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has compiled a daunting set of statistics, including that one in five Americans today is living with at least one of a wide range of mental issues. That translates into more than 50 million people.

www.istockphoto.com

Not that COVID is the lone culprit. Pre-pandemic life was already a pressure cooker of high-stress triggers such as financial panic, job anxiety, inflation, debt— I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that life for almost everyone can be a challenge. However, burnout syndrome has certainly been exacerbated by COVID these past two-plus years and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Americans suffering from depression and anxiety that can reliably be traced to COVID-specific restrictions, from lockdowns to mask mandates. That most definitely includes children, adolescents and emerging young adults who are exhibiting signs of depression in greater numbers as a result of forced isolation and remote education.

What is the actual degree to which we can attribute our elevated levels or incidences of stress and depression to the pandemic? That is endlessly debatable…and it also misses the point. If it feels as if you or a loved one is struggling emotionally—regardless of why—the more critical question is where should I look for help? Admitting that a problem exists, and recognizing that the situation has escalated to a point where managing it without help is no longer possible, is a critical first step. If you or someone close to you is exhibiting behavior that is concerning, harmful or uncontrollable, the time is now to seek help. Trinitas offers a full array of mental health support and services, providing almost 200,000 behavioral health outpatient visits a year.

One program that has enjoyed particular success is the Trinitas Institute for Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Allied Treatments—the DBT Institute, for short— which is headed by Co-Directors Atara Hiller, PsyD and Essie Larson, PhD. Dr. Hiller manages the Adolescent DBT Program, and Dr. Larson runs the Adult DBT Program.

“It Depends”

Atara Hiller, PsyD

Essie Larson, PhD

DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy with the goal of building a life worth living by developing behavioral skills to improve impulse control, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and overall functioning, and replace old harmful ways of thinking and behaving with new, healthier ones. A fundamental principle of DBT treatment is finding “middle-of-the road” solutions to help overcome the extreme positions that interfere with adapting to real-life situations. In other words, for many of us, the concept of “it depends” is a fact of life—we recognize that the everyday decisions and situations we encounter are not binary, either/or, black-and-white, etc. For some people, however, this is extremely difficult to accept and tolerate. For them, the world is filled with battles between opposing forces of, for example, right and wrong or good and evil. Needless to say, it is an emotionally exhausting way to go through life.

When discussing the dialectical perspective, Dr. Hiller explains, “The key to successful adjustment may be accepting that the real truth is that there is no absolute truth at all. DBT accepts that two seemingly opposite truths can both exist at the same time, and that it is possible to modify behavior patterns to adopt a reasonable middle ground as a healthier response, instead of succumbing to either extreme position.”

“The reality that is encouraged is that there is no absolute truth, but rather everything is a mixed bag,” Dr. Larson adds.

The emphasis in DBT is placed on increasing emotional and behavioral regulation so that individuals can make effective choices that help them work towards their long-term goals. Clients undergoing this therapy are passionate about almost everything—and consequently are often judged as being irrational, attention-seeking, excessive or hot-headed because they react so quickly and take so long to cool down.

At the DBT Institute, these individuals are regarded as “exquisitely sensitive” and “super sensors.” The objective is to teach and encourage self-acceptance by validating their passionate internal experiences, while also guiding them to identify and change behaviors that interfere with reaching their personal goals. By providing a supportive, validating, and goal-oriented therapeutic environment, the team of DBT therapists helps the clients (and in the case of adolescents, their families as well) to learn and use the variety of skills taught in the treatment.

Getting Help

We all know family members, friends or co-workers who seem to be intractable in their views and behavior at times. However, individuals who benefit the most from DBT struggle with this at a much higher level of intensity. Typically, a DBT candidate presents as a person with challenges in multiple areas of life who has had previous unsuccessful experiences with other types of therapy. Behaviors such as self-harm, impulsivity, substance use, eating disorders and aggression become these individuals’ primary problem-solving methods to tolerate the debilitating emotional distress that they experience. Unfortunately, these behaviors seriously interfere with quality of life and social integration.

The objective of developing a healthy skillset is reflected in the DBT mantra: Build a life worth living! Comprehensive, outpatient DBT programs that follow the empirically based model are organized into three hours of weekly meetings—consisting of two hours of skills group (Adult DBT groups are for the clients only, while Adolescent DBT groups include parents/ caregivers) and one hour of individual therapy for the client. Between session, phone coaching is also available to help clients use their skills in their day-to-day lives. In addition, both the Adult and Adolescent programs offer services for graduates of the program to help them further solidify what they have learned. Across the Adult and Adolescent programs there are nine staff members, including Dr. Hiller and Dr. Larson. In addition, there are between 7 and 10 trainees at any given time. Several of the staff and trainees see both adult and adolescent DBT clients.

The adult DBT program requires an initial commitment of 52 weeks, followed by the opportunity to extend for another 26 weeks to complete two full cycles of the skills curriculum. The duration for one cycle of the curriculum for English-speaking adolescents/families is 20 weeks, whereas for Spanish-speaking adolescents/ families, the duration for one cycle of the curriculum is 24 weeks (because the groups are provided in both English and Spanish). Adolescent DBT requires that at least one parent/caregiver must also commit to the treatment by attending group and family sessions, and individual parent coaching sessions as needed. This is because having parents/caregivers support the use of DBT skills is essential. Clients in the Adult DBT program attend treatment alone with free monthly education nights provided for family members and friends who are interested in learning more about DBT treatment, DBT skills, and supporting their loved ones. All types of insurance are accepted. There is currently a substantial waiting list for both programs.

During the pandemic, the Institute continued to serve clients through Zoom sessions. Despite an adjustment period, therapy quality was never compromised. Some clients (especially those living at a distance from Trinitas) found teletherapy to their liking, while others rejoiced when in-person therapy resumed. Most importantly, all of the DBT clients continued to make progress in the face of heightened stress and anxiety.

“The skills we teach were the perfect tools to deal with uncertainty and major life changes,” says Dr. Larson.

Key Ingredient

Both Dr. Hiller and Dr. Larson emphasize that the indispensable component of successful completion of the DBT program is “commitment…commitment…and more commitment.” Clients must first believe, even if hesitantly, that their life can potentially improve and then they must be willing to put in the hard work—with the support and encouragement of their therapists—to start making it happen. “The foundation of any DBT program is that it is totally voluntary and therefore, by definition, requires an incredibly high degree of resolve,” Dr. Hiller explains. To be accepted into either the adult or adolescent programs, clients must sign a personal contract outlining the terms of their commitment.

Modifying ingrained behavior patterns requires a whole-hearted dedication to achieving a balance between emotional extremes and learning how to identify and make more effective choices. Before being accepted, the DBT team spends time screening prospective clients on the telephone, followed by personal interviews to discern levels of motivation, increase commitment, troubleshoot potential issues and agree on a collaborative approach to reaching goals. The DBT program provides the tools and encouragement; the commitment to apply them to daily life is up to the client.

As a goal-oriented therapy, successfully completing what is referred to as Stage 1 DBT treatment in the Adult Program requires clients to demonstrate at the end of two cycles of the curriculum that they have moved closer to their goals by learning and applying the skills taught to them. In the Adolescent Program successfully completing Stage 1 DBT treatment may occur after one cycle, although most families stay for two cycles to solidify the improvements. Time limited graduate level treatment can be arranged for certain clients in both the Adult and Adolescent Programs, however Dr. Larson emphasizes that, compared to many other types of mental health therapy, DBT is meant to have a tangible end point. “DBT is a recovery-based model,” she says. “The goal is to get clients to the point where they no longer need therapy.”

 

Editor’s Note: The Trinitas Institute for DBT and Allied Treatments for adults is located at 654 East Jersey Street in Elizabeth (908) 994-7087. Adolescent DBT treatment is located at 655 East Jersey Street (908) 994–7378 (English) and (908) 994–7589 (Spanish). For more information, visit dbtnj.org. The Institute also offers a variety of training, supervision and consultation services to support clinicians interested in learning DBT or to hone their DBT therapy skills. Clinicians who are still in school or already licensed may apply to formally join the DBT Institute teams for comprehensive training. Applications can be found on the website.

 

Fruit of Their Labors

We are producing a bumper crop of athletes in women’s sports in the Garden State. Do we know who planted those seeds?

New Jersey’s official nickname, The Garden State, first became popular during the 1800s, when New York, Philadelphia and other cities grew ever more dependent on the fruit, vegetables and dairy items produced by our famously fertile soil. Today, there is another export crop you can add to the list: top-notch athletes. We grow them like crazy.

This has been true for decades, of course. As noted elsewhere in this issue, New Jersey has a particular set of circumstances—great population density, strong school programs, healthy income and employment numbers, a terrific road system and, let’s be honest, a little bit of a chip on our shoulders—that constantly recombine to produce talented, successful and occasionally transcendent young men and women who leave their indelible stamp on college, international and professional sports. Okay, now let’s be honest again: The guys hogged the sports spotlight for more than a century here. It’s about time the girls get to share it.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

New Jersey’s explosion in women’s sports programs and participation—from grade school on up—is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was triggered in large part by the passing of Title IX legislation in the 1970s. Title IX was indeed a game-changer. It banned discrimination in higher education, which in turn compelled colleges and universities to support (and often create) women’s sports programs. With a dramatic expansion in college sports teams, the trickle-down effect was that coaches needed star athletes…and New Jersey schools and communities were uniquely structured to feed that need. Which is how we arrived at where we are today. However, giving Title IX the lioness’s share of the credit, as some do, misses a critical point: Today’s athletes stand on the shoulders of the pioneers of their sports—most of whom lived and played decades before Title IX, with some stretching back to the turn of the last century.

Country Club Types

The 1890s are sometimes referred to as the Gilded Age in New Jersey. For sports historians, that decade marked the first flowering of women’s sports in the Garden State. The elite-level athletes of that era tended to be children of means, young ladies who watched their male counterparts play country club sports like golf and tennis—and who wanted in on the action. Of course, they were bucking a cultural norm that had existed for centuries, the understanding that girls with the energy and athleticism to excel in sports should simply find another, more “ladylike” outlet for their talents. Consequently, the first stars of women’s sports in New Jersey weren’t concerned with how they might look to a future husband dripping with sweat. They were winners who possessed a killer instinct. And when the door opened a crack, they simply powered through it.

Pure Golf Auctions

Pure Golf Auctions

The groundbreakers in tennis included Aline Terry of Princeton, who won the 1893 U.S. singles and doubles championships, and Bessie Moore (right) of Ridgewood, who won a total of six U.S. titles between 1896 and 1905. Terry was a highly mobile and stunningly aggressive player, despite the fact she played at a time when women were expected to wear ankle-length tennis dresses. Moore won by outlasting opponents in long rallies, thanks to her equally good forehand and backhand. She reached her first U.S. singles titles at the age of 16 and, at age 31, was the first-ever U.S. Indoors champion, winning the inaugural tournament held in New York’s Park Avenue Armory. Moore’s great rival was Juliette Atkinson, who was born in Rahway but learned the game growing up in Brooklyn (we’ll take some credit for her as a Jersey Girl anyway). Atkinson combined stamina and strategy to become the nation’s top player in the late-1890s.

Another top player in the early days of tennis was Helen Homans. Growing up in Englewood, she sharpened her skills playing against her older brother, Shep, when she was a young teenager and he was an All-American football star at Princeton (and later a champion tennis player). Homans won the 1905 U.S. singles champion-ship and was a supremely talented doubles player. She married her frequent mixed doubles partner, Marshall McLean, and played at a high level well into her 50s.

Top-flight women’s golf also got its start in the 1890s. For several years before that, New Jersey country clubs set aside certain days for their female members and created a set of tees that were closest to the hole for beginners, juniors and women (though to this day they are somewhat derogatorily known as “ladies” tees). The U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, which is the country’s third-oldest golf tournament, began in 1895 and was held at the Morris County Golf Club in its second year, 1896. The club had been in operation only two years at that point, having been formed as America’s first all-women golf club in 1894. In 1897, the competition moved to the Essex County Country Club in West Orange. Beatrix Hoyt, the granddaughter of Salmon P. Chase—who served as Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the Abraham Lincoln administration—won both tournaments.

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The biggest name in women’s golf in New Jersey during the 1920s and 1930s was Maureen Orcutt (below), who learned the game as a girl in Englewood. She was runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1927 and won more than 50 titles during her career, including the U.S. Senior crown twice in the 1960s. Orcutt became just the second female sports-writer for The New York Times. In 1946, the former Olympic track star Babe Didrikson Zaharias helped women’s professional golf get off the ground by founding the LPGA Tour. The U.S. Women’s Open came to New Jersey for the first time in 1948 and Babe, age 37, cruised to the title by eight strokes. The tournament returned to New Jersey five more times between 1961 and 2017.

Run Camille Run

While golf and tennis were dominated by the upper crust in New Jersey during the early 20th century, other sports enabled elite athletes to show their stuff regardless of how well-off their families were. The first dual track meet for female athletes was held in 1903 in Montclair and Spalding’s annual guide listed women’s track and field records for the first time in 1904. As social attitudes changed about the value of vigorous exercise for young women, running, jumping and throwing competition became commonplace in New Jersey high schools during the first two decades of the 1900s (although male spectators were often barred from these events).

The 1920s are called the Golden Age of Sports in America and that was certainly true in New Jersey. Women’s softball teams began springing up across the state and bowling became a popular women’s sport after Prohibition kicked in. Prior to that, bowling alleys were allowed to serve alcohol and were basically sports bars for men. When the taps were shut off, bowling alleys courted women to make up for lost income. Competitive swimming also became a popular sport for women, especially along the Jersey Shore. Gertrude Ederle (above), who summered in Highlands, learned to fight off the strong currents of Sandy Hook Bay and developed the endurance she needed to become the first woman to swim the English Channel, in 1926.

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For nearly two decades prior to the Second World War, New Jersey became a regional hub for men’s and women’s track and field events. The first great homegrown women’s star was Camille Sabie (above), a teen prodigy whose name has, unfortunately, been lost to history. Sabie, a Newark girl, was so explosive in short sprints and hurdles that officials sometimes wondered if there was something wrong with their stopwatches. In 1922, she shattered the world record in the 100-yard hurdles twice in two different meets on back-to-back days. She was picked to compete on America’s first international track team, in Paris, where she broke her own world record twice more, ran the anchor leg for the 440 relay squad and beat all comers in the broad jump. In the fall of 1922, she continued smashing records. At a meet in Newark’s Weequahic Park, 25,000 people showed up to watch her equal the American record in the 100-yard dash and set new world records in the broad jump and 60-yard hurdles. Sabie retired from competition shortly before her 20th birthday and eventually became the beloved Phys. Ed. Teacher at her alma mater, East Side High School in Newark.

In 1923, Newark was selected as the site of the first Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) women’s track and field championships. The meet was won by a team sponsored by Prudential Insurance. In 1931, the AAU championships were held in Newark again and, by the time they were done, a 19-year-old Texan had become a household name. Babe Didrikson (yes, the same “Babe” who would help establish the LPGA 15 years later) won the long jump, broke the U.S. record in the hurdles and won the baseball throw with a distance of 296 feet—a record that apparently still stands. Didrikson’s time in the hurdles was so good that officials held up the meet to measure the track…and found that it was actually more than two feet too long.

Another early New Jersey track star was Paterson’s Eleanor Egg, a sprinter who piled up more than 250 medals and trophies in the 1920s and ’30s—but missed two Olympics due to unfortunately timed injuries. Mae Faggs, the first American woman to compete in three Olympics (1948, ’52 and ’56), was born in Mays Landing and grew up in Queens. Another transplanted New Jersey Olympian was Mary Decker-Slaney, who spent her early years in Hunterdon County before moving to the West Coast in the late-1960s.

New Jersey Gems

Over the ensuing decades, Garden State high schools sent several track and field athletes to top college programs—a process that accelerated dramatically after Title IX legislation was passed. That paved the way for New Jersey Olympians like Joetta Clark of South Orange—who represented the U.S. in four Olympics—and her younger sister, Hazel. At the 2000 Olympic trials, Joetta, Hazel and sister-in-law Jearl Miles-Clark swept the top three spots in the 800 meters final—an all-sisters outcome we are unlikely to see again in any track event. This past summer, Sydney McLaughlin of Dunellen was the talk of the Olympics, setting a new world record in the 400-meter hurdles and also winning gold as a member of the 4 x 400 relay team. All are part of a continuum that stretches back nearly a century to the triumphs of Camille Sabie.

Playing Ball

The breakout sports stars of the 1920s and 1930s laid the foundation for the postwar boom in New Jersey of girls’ and women’s sports participation. Softball, swimming and basketball in particular took off. As mentioned earlier, softball was being played at a high level in the Garden State prior to the war years, particularly in Bergen and Hudson counties. In fact, several players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (made famous in A League of Their Own) came from New Jersey, most notably Dolores Lee of Jersey City, who inspired the scene where Rosie O’Donnell throws two baseballs at the same time. After the AAGPL folded in the mid-1950s, several top stars joined the New Jersey-based Allington All-Stars, a barnstorming club that took on men’s teams all over the country. Their star was Dottie Schroeder, who was played by Gina Davis in the movie. A generation later, girls were getting in on Little League action, starting with Maria Pepe, whose insistence on playing for her Hoboken team in 1972 opened the door to millions of girls who followed.

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Women’s hoops picked up steam in the 1950s and 1960s with the international success of AAU teams and became a full-blown phenomenon in New Jersey during the 1970s, thanks to a confluence of forces: the announcement that women’s basketball would become an Olympic sport in 1976, the advent of Title IX, and the wondrous play of Carol Blazejowski (above). Blazejowski starred for Cranford High and then Montclair College, where she drew huge crowds not only at Montclair but also at Madison Square Garden. She later starred for the New Jersey Gems in the short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League. Sports Illustrated called her the most relentlessly exciting performer in the history of women’s basketball. One of the co-captains of the aforementioned ’76 Olympic team was Juliene Brazinski Simpson, who developed her skills as a point guard competing against the guys on the playgrounds of Elizabeth and later, in high school, for Benedictine Academy.

One of the early pioneers of women’s basketball was Cathy Cowan of Egg Harbor. She attended West Chester College south of Philadelphia, which had a strong athletic program for women, and ended up being one of the top coaches in the nation during the 1970s. She married NBA referee Ed Rush and later ran basketball camps for girls. One of her counselors was Geno Auriemma, who went on to win multiple NCAA titles as head coach of the UConn Huskies. Another camp counselor was Cheryl Reeve of Washington Township, who coached the Minnesota Lynx to the WNBA title in 2011. The first president of the WNBA, it’s worth noting, was Val Ackerman of Pennington, who starred in college for the University of Virginia. By the 1980s, New Jersey was producing some of the nation’s top players, including Valerie Still of Camden, Adrienne Goodson of Bayonne and Anne Donovan of Ridgewood. Donovan won Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988 as a player, and then as head coach of Team USA in 2008. She also led the Seattle Storm to the WNBA championship in 2004.

New Jersey women began making waves in aquatic sports starting in the 1960s. Lesley Bush, who attended a school in Princeton without a swimming or diving team, found a home at a training center an hour north in Mountain Lakes and made the Olympic diving team in 1964 at age 16. When she stunned the experts by winning gold in Tokyo as a relative unknown in the platform competition, even her parents thought it might be a mistake. Princeton threw a parade for Bush upon her return and many of her classmates—who were let out of school for the day—had no idea it was that Lesley Bush they were going to see. Another teenage swimming prodigy was Ginny Duenkel (right) of West Orange, who also won gold at the 1964 Olympics. Neither her parents nor her coach could afford the airfare to Japan, so she went alone and demolished the world record in the 400-meter freestyle. An earlier gold medalist was Joan Spillane, who began her swimming career in Glen Ridge before moving to Houston. She was a member of the record-setting 1960 freestyle relay team. These swimmers set the stage for modern record-breakers and NCAA champions, including Olympic gold medalists Kelsi Worrell of Westampton Township and Rebecca Soni of Plainsboro.

Gymnastics Hall of Fame

In recent years, gymnastics has made its share of headlines in Garden State newspapers, and there are dozens of first-rate gyms here to get young girls started in the sport. Laurie Hernandez of Old Bridge had something to do with that. She surprised many experts when she finished second behind Simone Biles at the 2016 Olympic Trials, and then won silver in Rio on the balance beam (with Biles taking the bronze). Hernandez also helped the American team win the all-around, becoming the first person born in the 21st century to win Olympic gold. She was the latest star in a Garden State gymnastics tradition that stretched back to the Swiss and German turnvereins of the early 1900s. Along the way, New Jersey produced several elite-level gymnasts, including Irma “Chip” Haubold of Union City (a 1936 Olympian along with her husband, Frank) Helen Schifano of East Orange—America’s top competitor during the 1940s—Roxanne Pierce (right) of Springfield, Alyssa Beckerman of Middletown and Kristen Maloney, who began her career in Hackettstown before moving to Pennsylvania.

There is seemingly no end to the sports that have been impacted by New Jersey women on the national and international levels. They include figure skating, skiing, hockey, cycling, rowing, fencing, bowling, lacrosse, field hockey, all manner of equestrian sports and even professional wrestling. Unfortunately, magazines being what they are, there is only so much one can squeeze in so many pages. The question of who sowed the seeds of women’s sports culture in New Jersey is one that deserves deeper dives and a much more comprehensive answer.

Honestly, you could write a book about it.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Eight ways to tame your over-the-top teenager. 

 

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A year ago, I drew upon a couple of decades of hands-on experience to offer up a very personal list of do’s and don’t’s for anyone considering the move to a home office. At the time, I felt I had exhausted my lone area of expertise. However, according to friends and family, I probably had one more article in me. I am a parent of two girls—now 18 and 21—who made it through adolescence relatively unscathed. Or at least, I made it through their adolescence relatively unscathed. They graduated from high school, I didn’t punch out their boyfriends, and as far as I know they did not end up in a Girls Gone Wild DVD. These days, that qualifies me (and my wife) for some kind of gold star. We really did do our best to make sure those wonder years covering 13 to 18 didn’t turn into blunder years. We read books and magazine articles on emotionally intelligent parenting. We discussed and debated parenting tactics out of earshot of our kids. We sought the advice of experts in the field.

We watched all kinds of TV shows—from the ones where therapists help teens and their parents work out knotty issues to the ones that exploit crummy parenting and creepy teen behavior to amp up their ratings. Based on this expansive knowledge base, we went down the cafeteria line and put together a parenting strategy that seemed to have a reasonable chance of success. For example, we resisted the almost constant urge to throttle our teen daughters, and tried instead to engage them in intelligent conversation. In other words, we tried things that didn’t work particularly well. Happily, some things did. And both daughters emerged from the dark tunnel of adolescence with a few door dings, but no major frame damage. My wife and I followed at a safe distance, resisting the temptation to hop in and indulge in back-seat driving. Along the way, we discovered what worked for our family, ourselves and our two very different teenagers. We also learned that there are no shortcuts in that tunnel—you have to make sacrifices, and put in the time, the emotion and the money, sometimes when you think there’s nothing left to give. Presented here, then, is a plan that worked well for at least one family—our family. We didn’t always stick to the plan, but whenever we strayed, we managed to find our way back. It was based on sound professional research mixed in with a little trial and error, and ultimately modified with that dose of reality that sometimes eludes the academics. The take-away is that addressing the challenges of teenage behavior requires an open mind, an open heart, the willingness to keep trying until you get it right…and the humility to realize that thinking you got it right is a sign that something is almost certainly about to go very wrong.

  1. Praise Positive Behavior Have ever you noticed that the behavior most likely to draw your attention is the behavior you seem to see the most of? There’s a reason for that—we’re reinforcing it. The problem is, all too often we drop the hammer on negative behavior and bad habits, picking transgressions apart in minute detail. Far less frequently, we shower attention on positive behavior, and when we do we aren’t always specific about why it’s positive and how it brightens everyone’s day. In these cases, don’t assume your teenager knows what he or she did right. Praise their positive behavior and explain what makes you happy or proud about it. Start with the small stuff, like picking up dirty laundry or turning off the lights after leaving a room. Offer small rewards, like choosing the music on your next car ride or stopping for an impromptu slice of pizza. Over time, this positive reinforcement will produce steady improvement. Be careful, however, not to go too far and overpraise every little thing. Keep raising the bar. Your kid’s not stupid. Eventually, he or she will catch on.
  2. Pick Your Battles You can’t rewind adolescence, and there is no restore procedure to turn teenagers back into the kind, considerate children they were 10 years ago. A certain amount of aggravating, self-centered behavior is part of growing up, so the best advice here is don’t sweat the small stuff. Be clear in your own mind between things that are merely annoying and things that are totally unacceptable, like shoplifting or vandalism or drinking and drugs. That other stuff—bad hair, bad makeup, bad clothing, bad music, bad friends, bad grades, bad language, bad time management—is all about your child testing limits (yours and society’s). Stand your ground on issues of safety and security, and do your best to guide them through the superficial stuff without badgering (or strangling!) them.
  3. Understand the Timeline Teenage behavior is part of a continuum in the maturing process. Just as you would not judge a three-year-old for shoving a Cheerio up his nose, don’t be hypercritical of a 15-year-old who is obsessed with her body image or wardrobe. This is a time of intense social, physical and emotional change. For instance, teenagers honestly believe they are smarter than their parents. So roll with it—don’t take every opportunity to show them how wrong they are. Yes, we know they are idiots when it comes to comprehending cause-and-effect, and they are often incapable of seeing past their own navels. But they have to start navigating life on their own. The best we can do is furnish them with a GPS and hope they don’t swerve into a lake on the road to adulthood. For what it’s worth, remember that, as teens in the 1970s and 1980s, we were operating in a comparatively rule-free environment and most of us emerged in tact.
  4. Stand Your Ground Setting clear behavioral boundaries and then establishing specific consequences for violating those boundaries is one of the toughest aspects of parenting. Everyone needs to be on the same page when a teenager blows it, and parents must support each other when that inevitable time comes to follow through on the promised punishment. If you threaten a big take-away but then fail to stand your ground, your authority will be seriously undermined. Worse, you may be sending the long-term message that consequences are for other people, not for your kid. Never forget that teenagers are like bloodhounds—they can smell the stink of weakness on a parent. What’s an appropriate punishment for a major violation? Well, what’s most important to your teen? Figure that out and let your child know that it will be taken away. The obvious stuff is phone, computer, video game or TV time. With all the advances in smart phone technology, you can now crush all four by taking away one device! If your teenager is driving, eliminating that privilege can be extremely effective. If you are indulging a special interest or activity—such as a sports team or camp—you can put that out there as a potential punishment, too.
  5. Set Them Free Teenagers crave independence. They want to make as many of their own decisions as possible, and resent parental interference. Difficult as it may be, parents should be willing to give their adolescent children just enough rope to test their choices and experience the consequences—and then yank them back if necessary. Unfortunately, allowing young people this kind of freedom can

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    result in extremely negative outcomes, such as tangles with the law. However, these experiences also tend to drive home important life lessons that teens might not take on faith from their parents. The big upside of giving teens independence is that, if they make good choices or draw good conclusions, they not only experience a sense of victory, but also know that they are making their parents proud—and that is a huge boost to their self-esteem.

  6. Walk the Walk Telling teens they need to behave a certain way—and then not living up to that behavior as a parent—is inviting all kinds of trouble. First off, it gives kids the courtroom evidence they need to throw back in your face when you criticize them for dangerous or inconsiderate behavior. Your son may forget to shower for three days, but he’ll remember every last thing you do wrong. Secondly, it completely ignores rule number-one of parenting: Kids do as we do, not as we say. So when you say no cursing, don’t curse around the house. When you say be respectful, don’t belittle your partner or spouse. No one’s perfect, but the more consistent you can be, the greater the impression will be on your teenager.
  7. Rights, Privileges & Respect These are concepts with which the adult brain often struggles, so it’s no surprise that teens tend to get them really jumbled up. One of the key challenges of parenting is helping adolescents sort out what’s what. If you don’t, you’re likely to end up with an indignant and venomous teenager on your hands. In our society, a child has the right to be sheltered, fed, clothed and schooled. A child also has the right to expect safety, care and compassion in the home, and to civil communication with caregivers. Beyond that, if you ask most parents, everything else is a privilege. Ask a teenager, however, and the list of entitlements is somewhat longer. Most believe they have the right to a phone, a video gaming system, an allowance, transportation, a bedtime of their own choosing and unfettered access to friends. It’s worth a parent’s time to subtly (or, if necessary, not so subtly) delineate between rights and privileges, because rights are something that cannot be taken away, while privileges can—either as a form of behavior modification, or if those privileges are abused. Is respect a right? Parents and kids both might be tempted to answer Yes. But what’s true outside the home carries some weight in the parent-child relationship: Respect is not automatic; it’s something you earn. As parents, we are shocked and offended by disrespectful behavior. What we fail to see is that teenagers are even more wounded when they are belittled by their parents. Sometimes, you just have to sit your kid down and say, “Hey, I’m your parent—I am doing my best to make a home for you, and that buys me some basic respect. We need to see a real effort from you to contribute to this family, and you will have our respect, too.”
  8. Never Give Up Taming a volatile teenager is no fun. If you’ve ever been tempted to chain your kid to a radiator, don’t worry. You’re

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    hardly alone. Sometimes all you want as a parent is just to get through one day without an explosive or heartbreaking moment. So it’s critical to understand that, when kids enter this dark tunnel, there is truly a light at the other end. If you’re lucky, you can take that journey with them, guide them through, and keep them on the right side of life’s double-yellow line. Just remember to do so in a separate vehicle. And keep several car-lengths between you.

Schools of Thought

Five challenges facing New Jersey education

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Most school administrators wouldn’t trade their job for anyone else’s. That being said, most wouldn’t wish their job on their worst enemy. Whether calling the shots in a public, private, faith-based or boarding school, the people who run New Jersey’s halls of education are engaged in a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole: As soon as one problem is addressed, two more always seem to pop up. None of these problems, it is worth noting, is simple. Nor is much in the way of extra help available to deal with them. In fact, since the 1980s, the number of teachers in New Jersey has grown by nearly a third. The number of administrators during that time has gone up a mere two percent. New Jersey’s public schools handle about 1.4 million kids in a given year, and their budgets make up the largest state-funded operation.

Our students rank high nationally in reading, writing and arithmetic, and we have the best high-school graduation rate in the country. New Jersey’s private schools rank among the best in the nation, too. Even so, our schools—all of our schools—have had to face significant challenges in the early part of the 21st century. Some are obvious, like budgeting. Everyone could use more money, from language arts instructors to librarians to lunch ladies. At the same time, budget reformers are looking for creative ways to slash school budgets, which in some places are driving property taxes up so high that many residents can’t afford to stay in the towns they’ve lived in for generations. In these pages, we’ll veer off the beaten path a bit and look at five topics that you either don’t hear much about, or don’t think about too much when you do hear about them. All are on the daily schedule for school administrators, and present some of their most difficult challenges.

TEACHER PERFORMANCE This is an incredibly complex issue. Who are the best teachers? Are they the ones who consistently turn out superb test-takers? Are they the ones whose students come back to visit 10 and 20 years later? Are they the ones who take thankless jobs in the most troubled school systems? These questions are not only relevant from a quality-of-education standpoint. With more and more discussion about the creation of incentives for great teachers—and a mechanism for getting rid of some lousy ones—there will be a need for some quantifiable measurements. And those measurements will have to include metrics that take into account the challenges each educator faces in his or her classroom. That is why all eyes are focused on the Newark school system, which famously received a pile of Facebook stock from Mark Zuckerberg three years ago.

In the new contract negotiated with city teachers at the end of 2012, there is a provision for merit pay. Teachers rated as “highly effective” can now pocket $5,000 in bonus money, which comes right out of the Facebook fund. Teachers in the more troubled schools can earn even more, as can math and science teachers. Teachers rated as “effective” will receive an agreed-upon pay raise every year they maintain that standing. Newark’s teachers are represented by the American Federation of Teachers, which negotiated the bonus terms. Most public educators in the state are represented by the New Jersey Education Association, which to this point has stood firmly against a bonus scheme. Needless to say, the NJEA will come under pressure to consider teacher bonuses if the Newark experiment is a success. What does success look like? More money for outstanding teachers, a fair wage for competent ones, and perhaps a way to ease out chronic under-performers.

SECURITY In the wake of the New-town tragedy, every school in the state had to reexamine its readiness and vulnerability in emergency situations. The process was expensive, time-consuming and eye-opening. For a while, everyone was nattering about armed guards in the hallways and even armed teachers in the classrooms. It appears that cooler heads have prevailed. The fact of the matter is that armed intruders are incredibly rare; a far more likely emergency scenario is an out-of-control parent, power failure or dangerous weather event. The bad news is that most New Jersey schools lack adequate staff training on the procedures needed to deal with these emergencies. There is actually an Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning. As you might imagine, its inspectors have been very busy since the Sandy Hook shootings. Some of their visits are scheduled, while others are unannounced. The goal is not to “catch” public schools unprepared, but to make sure that they follow a set protocol for lock-downs and other safety drills. The state has always had relatively strict drill requirements, so it has been more of a fine-tuning process than an overhaul.

Private schools are a different matter. They tend to operate more openly to project a warm and welcoming feeling to current and prospective parents. Many of these schools have drop-off and pick-up “traditions” that they are reluctant to change, even when they might compromise security. In some schools, parents could slap a Visitor sticker on and roam the halls without attracting a second look. Well, this situation has changed dramatically in the last year. Parents who were once charmed by a feeling of openness have started looking at their schools with a more critical eye. As a result, most private schools—at considerable expense—have undergone security audits, and are now making substantial changes to their physical spaces, technology, and visitor policies. These changes have to be paid for. In some cases, schools will dip into their endowments. In others, there will be a noticeable bump in tuition.

HOMEWORK The point of homework is not just to educate students outside the classroom. It helps them develop time-management skills and teaches them lessons in accountability they will need to learn before moving on to college or into the workforce. The challenge public schools face is that students who will not (or cannot) complete their homework assignments fall behind the rest of the class. They become disinterested or disenchanted or disruptive. Over the course of a semester, depending on the school system, a teacher who is tough about homework is likely to find a large portion of the class far behind by the time final grades are given. In subjects where testing is used to measure a school’s success (and by extension, a teacher’s effectiveness), everyone loses. So what’s a teacher to do? In many instances, a large portion of class time is now devoted to getting homework done!

This is the only way to ensure that every student is on the same page. Unfortunately, this limits the amount of material that can be covered in class. It is also creating a generation of kids with a lot of un-monitored after-school time to kill, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. The challenge for private schools where homework is concerned often comes down to blow-back from parents about too much. Above 5th or 6th grades, most private schools have a policy limiting homework to no more than 15 to 30 minutes per subject. Of course, if three classes give a half-hour each, a project is due in a fourth class, and a student needs to study for a quiz or exam in a fifth class, the result can be a meltdown. And guess who deals with that? The parents…who are paying thousands of dollars a year (sometimes tens of thousands) in tuition. Many feel that this buys them the privilege of not having to crack the whip on homework assignments.

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RECESS (aka GYM) Recess—or free time for physical activities—has long been a tradition in both public and private education. Researchers agree that its value includes the development of cognitive skills outside the classroom environment, including cooperation, teamwork and communication. Recess has also been shown to have a direct link to improved academic performance. And, of course, activity during the school day is one way of addressing the obesity issue. The problem is that the number of schools with a structured PE curriculum is shrinking—in some cases for budgetary or manpower reasons, in others because of liability concerns.

In schools that need to improve their measurable academic success, outdoor time has actually been cancelled to give students extra time to prep for tests. Those schools that continue to schedule recess or gym classes have in many cases devolved into little more than active socializing. Indeed, at some schools, “walking and talking” constitutes an adequate amount of physical activity. A recent study estimated that two in five schools have either eliminated recess or reduced it. In lower-income districts, the cuts have been even more dramatic. The situation has become so distressing that, this past year, Shirley Turner, a state senator representing portions of Mercer and Hunterdon Counties, introduced a bill requiring public schools to provide a daily recess period, but only through fifth grade.

BULLYING In the last five years, national attention has been focused on the issue of bullying in schools. It is on the rise nationwide, and in New Jersey, too. The rapid growth of social media has certainly added fuel to what was a smoldering fire. So, too, has the focus on confrontation in the reality shows that young people watch. Schools have combated this growing problem as best they can, including a stronger anti-bullying law that went into effect in New Jersey during the 2011–12 school year. That law compelled schools to designate an Anti-Bullying Coordinator, who must report every incident. Prior to the 2011 legislation, reports of school bullying had risen sharply, by 15 to 20%, over a three-year period, according to the state’s Department of Education. Critics of the new rule claimed that the stricter reporting requirement might send the bullying numbers soaring.

However, this doesn’t appear to be the case. In some districts, bullying incidents actually fell. In others they remained fairly consistent. In a few, they spiked. Who are the bullies? About a third of reported incidents involve seventh- and eighth-graders. A quarter occur among ninth- and tenth-graders. Fewer than 1 in 20 of these incidents was linked to racial or religious bias, so basically it’s kids being jerks. Some have posited that the rise in bullying may be linked to the punishment now meted out in public schools for physical violence. In the old days, standing up to a bully meant punching him in the mouth—or at least making yourself a hard target. Now that response would carry an automatic suspension. Others point out that if a bully is using social media as a weapon, a punch in the mouth isn’t even an option anymore. The notion that bullying is less of a problem in private schools may be accurate, but it is not supported by any hard numbers. Those institutions are not compelled to report bullying, and each sets its own policy. To be certain, bullying does occur in New Jersey’s private, faith-based and boarding schools. It may be more subtle or sophisticated, and some cases may involve influential families, so administrators must tread lightly before dropping the hammer on a bully.   

Editor’s Note: What might this same article include a year from now? Some trends to keep an eye on are New Jersey’s adoption of national Common Core standards. New York adopted them recently and saw its test scores fall. It will also be interesting to watch the development of Governor Christie’s Regional Achievement Centers, which are meant to be a resource for teachers and parents, but thus far have been underutilized. And finally, a debate may be on the horizon regarding the skyrocketing costs of special education.

Of note to teachers and parents: TRMC’s Department of Behavioral Health & Psychiatry produced Step-Up, Take Action: When Does a Child Need Help? Log onto edgemagonline.com for a free PDF version in English or Spanish.

Teachable Moments

Abraham Browning Photo courtesy of NJ.gov

Why do our license plates say Garden State? Unless you are in law enforcement, it is doubtful that you spend a lot of time thinking about license plates. However, if you are 60 or younger, that slogan has probably been attached to every car you or your family has ever owned. At the time Garden State was added to our license plates in 1955, the term had been in use as an unofficial nickname for well over half a century. The characterization of New Jersey as a garden may not seem right to out-of-towners, but anyone who has spent any time here knows how incredibly productive the soil is in all but a couple of places. In the 1700s and 1800s, New Jersey served as the primary food source for two of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, New York and Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin likened our state to a barrel of food, open at both ends, nourishing two major populations.

Legend has it that the term Garden State came into wide use after the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. During that event, Abraham Browning, New Jersey’s Attorney General in the years prior to the Civil War, gave a speech in which he described his home state as “an immense barrel filled with good things to eat and open at both ends—with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and the New Yorkers from the other.” It was during this speech that he supposedly dubbed New Jersey the Garden State. When the license plate bill was introduced in Trenton in 1954, Governor Robert Meyner decided to investigate the origin of the slogan and determined that at no time had it ever been recognized officially. Focused on promoting the state’s growing reputation as a business-friendly industrial player, Governor Meyner felt the word garden sounded too rural—and actually vetoed the bill! “I do not believe that the average citizen of New Jersey regards his state as more peculiarly identifiable with gardening for farming than any of its other industries or occupations,” he said. The legislature ignored him, overrode the veto, and early the next year the new license plates started arriving at Motor Vehicles.

Photo courtesy of Fabioj

Who came up with the Big Bang theory? If you were hoping to read about Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj, skip to the next teachable moment. This Big Bang happened billions of years ago—and was “discovered” by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1965. The two radioastronomers, working at Bell Labs in Holmdel, were interested in measuring radio signals coming from space. They were given permission to use a satellite receiver (from an obsolete project called Echo), which was destined for the scrapheap. It just happened to be perfect for their experiments. As soon as Penzias and Wilson began, they noticed a static-y background signal in the microwave range.

Until they eliminated this mysterious noise, they could not continue with their work. The problem was complicated by the fact that, no matter where they pointed the receiver, they heard the same noise. They began ruling out various possibilities. It was not an extra-terrestrial radio signal. It had nothing to do with nearby New York City. An above-ground nuclear test was not the culprit either. It occurred to the scientists that perhaps the pigeons living in the antenna were creating the problem. They shooed them away and then swept out their poop themselves. Next, they turned to the work of others. In 1929, Edwin Hubble had shown that the galaxies we could see from earth seemed to be moving away from us. This suggested that the universe had been compacted at some point.

In England, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and two colleagues were taking Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and trying to work backwards to measure time and space. The conclusion they drew was that time and space had a “beginning”—and that all matter and energy originated at that point. Closer by, in Princeton, Robert Dicke theorized that if such an origination point existed, then the residue of the “big bang” that created the universe would be evident in consistent, low-level background radiation anywhere you looked. What Dicke needed was evidence. After four frustrating seasons, Penzias and Wilson began reaching out to their colleagues. They contacted Dicke and presented their dilemma. Of course, he knew exactly what the noise was. Dicke shared his theoretical work, knowing he’d been “scooped.” The three scientists published their findings and in 1978, Penzias and Wilson received the Nobel Prize. One wonders if they could have imagined this outcome more than a decade earlier, while they were sweeping bird droppings off their receiver.

How did our bridges and tunnels get built? New Jerseyans don’t like it a bit when Manhattanites deride them as the “Bridge & Tunnel” crowd. But bridges and tunnels provide vital lifelines for urban dwellers and, lest we forget, they do not build themselves. In the case of the Holland Tunnel to New York and the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philadelphia, credit goes to the vision, political will and—surprise!—unbridled corruption of two of the state’s iconic influence-peddlers: Frank Hague and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Hague clawed his way to power in Hudson County beginning in the 1890s, rising from the job of Jersey City constable to ward boss to City Commissioner by 1913. During World War I, Hague filled a power vacuum and seized control of the state’s most populous and richest county.

He was elected Jersey City Mayor in 1917. Johnson, the inspiration for Nucky Thompson in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, held a number of different official positions in Atlantic City. He ascended to role of political boss in 1911 after his predecessor was jailed. He quickly consolidated this position and held it for three decades. To stimulate business for his town, Johnson made sure that city officials looked the other way when it came to enforcing laws against gambling, prostitution and liquor. When Prohibition kicked in a few years later, Atlantic City became a Mecca of vice and Johnson’s take on this illicit business was hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Between the two machine bosses, they controlled enough money and manpower in New Jersey to get almost anything done— or make almost anyone disappear. They first joined forces in 1916. Johnson was the campaign manager for Walter Evans Edge, a state senator from Atlantic County who had his eye on the White House.

The first step was to get him to the governor’s mansion. This would be tricky, as Edge was a Republican and Hague was a Democrat who controlled votes in the northern half of the state. Johnson (then 33) met with Hague (then 40) and suggested they forge a partnership that would serve both their ambitions going forward. Hague instructed his organizers to make sure Edge won the Republican primary, and then yanked his support from a stunned Democratic candidate Otto Wittpenn in the general election. With Edge running things in Trenton, Johnson’s power grew. The new governor rewarded him by making him Clerk of the State Supreme Court. He also pushed through laws that gave New Jersey’s cities more autonomy, which helped solidify Johnson and Hague as machine bosses. In 1917, Governor Edge “rewarded” Johnson and Hague by reorganizing the state highway department. This enabled him to authorize the construction of a bridge between South Jersey and Philadelphia (the Ben Franklin Bridge) and a tunnel between Jersey City and Manhattan (the Holland Tunnel).

The bridge opened in 1926 and the tunnel opened in 1927. Both projects transformed the cities that Johnson and Hague controlled. After 30 years, the law finally caught up with Johnson. For years, he had listed enormous amounts of income from gambling, prostitution and kickbacks on his tax return as “other contributions.” The IRS finally nailed him in 1941. Hague fared better during FDR’s administration. Indeed, the lion’s share of federal funds earmarked for New Jersey was put under Hague’s control, conspicuously bypassing the state’s senators or governors. Hague finally resigned as Jersey City Mayor when the new state constitution went in place in 1947.

It was rewritten largely to curtail the influence of local political bosses, and he knew it. Edge went on to enjoy a long and productive national and state political career, but never made it to the White House. He was the fron-trunner for vice president on Warren Harding’s ticket in 1920, but enemies he made with his wheeling and dealing in the Garden State blocked his candidacy, and Calvin Coolidge ended up as Harding’s running mate. Coolidge ascended to the presidency after Harding died in office. Who knows what New Jersey would look like today had Edge been president instead of Coolidge. One can only imagine the extent to which Frank and Nucky might have elevated their power.

Photo Courtesy of Twin Lights Historical Society

Where was the Pledge of Allegiance given for the first time? The Pledge of Allegiance was first published on September 8, 1892, in The Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine that enjoyed wide circulation across the United States. On April 25, 1893, the Pledge was given for the first time as America’s official national oath of loyalty in a ceremony atop the Navesink Highlands, overlooking Sandy Hook. How the Pledge made this extraordinary journey in less than eight months is a story that is still not covered in most textbooks. The Pledge originated in the offices of The Youth’s Companion in Boston as part of a promotion to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America.

The publisher’s nephew, James Upham, was in charge of marketing the publication. His goal was to sell flags through advertising that appeared on the magazine’s back pages. Knowing that schools did not typically have flags in their classrooms, he came up with the clever idea of having students recite a pledge of loyalty to the flag at the start of each school day. At a time when patriotism in America was on the rise, this seemed like a sure bet. The writer of the pledge was Francis Bellamy, a local Baptist minister and occasional contributor to the Companion. He may or may not have had editing help, but the final result was I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. An ardent socialist, Bellamy had originally include the words equality and fraternity in the Pledge. It was decided that no one quite knew what fraternity meant (it was an expression held over from the French Revolution), and that equality might offend those who frowned upon the notion than women and African Americans might share in the advantages enjoyed by white males.

The Pledge of Allegiance immediately caught the attention of President Benjamin Harrison, who was running for reelection that fall. Harrison proclaimed that October 12 would now be Columbus Day, and ordered that the Pledge be recited in schools on that morning. It soon became a daily practice in many schools, and at various public events. Harrison ended up losing the election to Grover Cleveland (the nation’s only NJ-born president), but Cleveland continued to carry the ball on the Pledge. As the April 1893 opening of the Colombian Exposition in Chicago approached (it was a year late because of construction delays), it became clear to Cleveland and others in his administration that a “mirror event” somewhere on the East Coast would be necessary. A Newark businessman named William McDowell entered the picture at this time. On his various return trips from Europe via steamship, McDowell noted that the greatest commotion on board was not when the incoming immigrants passed that new statue, Liberty Enlightening the World, but upon the first sighting of the coastline. The first piece of America immigrants saw rising over the horizon on their way into New York Harbor was the Navesink Light Station, better know as the Twin Lights. McDowell believed there should be a flag atop the highlands, between the two lights, that was double their height.

Having already secured funds to erect this 135- foot Liberty Pole, he joined forces with The Youth’s Companion and government officials to hold a ceremony to make the Pledge of Allegiance “official” at the same time the Chicago World’s Fair was opening. On April 25th, several hundred local and national dignitaries gathered on a hastily constructed grandstand to witness the dedication of the Liberty Pole at the Twin Lights. It was a miserable, drizzly morning punctuated by several speeches and flag raisings. The Pledge of Allegiance was given for the first time as the official oath of loyalty. A flotilla of international warships fired salutes as it made its way north toward Sandy Hook. The following day, the ships were assembled for a naval review in New York Harbor, followed by parades and a couple of days of social events. Because Cleveland chose to bypass the flag-raising (he managed to make the parties in New York) and because almost every reporter of note in America was in Chicago to cover the Colombian Exposition, the day the Pledge became official never made it into the history books. The wording has changed a couple of times in the last 120 years, and the way we salute the flag has, too. One thing, however, remains the same—the Pledge of Allegiance is the symbolic final threshold every new American must cross before he or she becomes a U.S. citizen.

Ready for the Real World

Who’s hiring our college grads?

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Putting a child through college is a stressful, frustrating, financially draining experience. Parents able and willing to do so deserve a medal. What do they receive? According to a poll by the research firm Twenty-something, Inc., 85 percent get their kids back. Of all the economic numbers confronting moms and dads these days, that one may just be the most deflating. In many cases, the newly minted grad comes home to roost until his or her employment picture gains some clarity.

Though the economic climate may have improved since the worst of times in 2008 and 2009—which marked a loss of more than eight million jobs nationwide—college graduates and displaced job seekers continue to face a less-than-welcoming marketplace in the Garden State. A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) indicated that just about 25 percent of 2012 diploma recipients had jobs waiting for them upon graduation. “While this number represents a slight increase from recent years, it’s still far from healthy,” says Greg Mass, Executive Director of Career Development Services at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark. An even more disconcerting reality for recent grads: this past summer, New Jersey’s unemployment rate climbed to nearly 10 percent, the highest it has been since 1977.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Representatives of the state’s colleges and universities say it isn’t necessarily that jobs are unavailable in New Jersey, it’s that job seekers simply need to know where—and how—to find them. They point to emerging trends that shed some light on which industries may be bouncing back better than others. Not surprisingly, students who are proficient in the latest technologies will find the biggest pool of potential jobs across the state—and they know it. This year, Computer Science, Information Technology, Engineering, and Information Systems were among the most sought after disciplines, Mass says.

SOCIAL MEDIA BOOM Any parent concerned that their college-aged child spends too much time on Facebook might breathe a little easier knowing that this shift in the way people communicate has actually led to a slew of career opportunities in social media. According to Ryan Stalgaitis, Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, companies are actively recruiting employees who have the know-how to manage their presence on platforms like YouTube and Twitter. “The number-one industry for jobs in New Jersey is anything that deals with social media,” he says, noting that the university is responding to the demand with courses that allow Communications students to pursue a concentration in social media. Likewise, the university’s marketing programs are also experiencing an uptick in enrollment, he adds. “No matter what industry they’re in, all businesses have a need for an online presence today,” says Reesa Greenwald, Interim Director of the Career Center at Seton Hall University in South Orange. “And they need new employees who will be able to help create a stronger Facebook presence, or to properly manage a LinkedIn account,” It’s also an area where recent grads have a leg up on displaced job seekers who have been out of college for a decade or more, she notes.

Even so, students still need to possess traditional communication skills. “We’re still hearing from employers that students need to have stronger writing and interpersonal skills,” says Dr. Joyce Strawser, Dean of the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University. The state’s institutions of higher education are trying to stay ahead of the curve in their quest to prepare students for the new demands of the workforce. “Colleges have been responding to developments in technology and business by creating majors that hardly existed five or 10 years ago,” Mass explains. Indeed, many colleges are ramping up their new media offerings to prepare students for careers in cutting-edge industries like game design, animation and programming, graphic design, and e-text and web publication.

9/11 KIDS New Jersey’s college students literally grew up in the “shadow” of 9/11. It changed their world view as kids, and now it’s starting to change their post-graduate careers in interesting ways. Many are finding employment daylight in security-based careers such as information assurance, cybersecurity and homeland security. Others feel compelled to give back to local communities by seeking employment in the non-profit sector. “When we look at the entire spectrum of employment over the past four graduating classes, we see that nonprofit consistently emerges as the top industry of choice for our graduates,” says Beverly Hamilton-Chandler, Director of Career Services for Princeton University. There are some careers that have continued to remain in demand in New Jersey for decades.

Accounting remains on top of the list of fields actively recruiting new employees; positions in the healthcare industry have remained steady even throughout the worst of the recession. According to Kim Crabbe, Director of the Center for Career Development at Drew University, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and biotech firms remain among the top sources for jobs in the state. Yet even in a field like healthcare, where jobs are relatively plentiful, many potential employees are finding that flexibility is key when it comes to channeling their skills and education into a career. “They may have earned a major in a particular field, but students need to know there are lots of things they can do with their skill set,” points out Carolyn Jones, Executive Director of the Center for Career Services and Cooperative Education at Montclair State University. “One of our goals is to help students understand that not everyone in the pharmaceutical industry wears a lab coat.” “Job seekers have to be open to pursuing opportunities that may not be their dream career, but that will at least get their foot in the door,” Stalgaitis adds.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

DOG EAT DOG EAT DOG In many cases, it’s not the career path students choose to pursue, but the steps they’re taking to land coveted full-time positions. Today’s graduates are finding that some tried-and-true methods of job searching—like mailing out résumés and waiting for a response—may no longer pan out. Networking both in-person and online remains the most successful method. “Students have to be assertive,” Strawser advises. “They have to be hungry for that job. They have to learn to follow up, and know how to take networking to the next level.” Not only are New Jersey grads competing with one another for full-time work, they’re also finding themselves up against older workers (who are more credentialed and experienced) due to layoffs, as well as graduates from the last several years, who are still seeking gainful employment.

Some students are even opting to leave the Garden State in search of that first full-time gig. “Graduates are willing to travel further for the right position,” Mass confirms. The competitive nature of the marketplace has also forced many job seekers to chart a less-direct path to their chosen careers. Suddenly, they need an increased level of experience just to compete for what were once entry- level positions. “The career ladder has changed,” Crabbe confirms, adding that sometimes the first step is an internship, not the entry-level job. Those who do snag a good job right out of school face a different work environment than their parents. Twentysomethings find themselves thrown right into the fire as soon as they’ve settled into their cubicles. “I think the greatest challenge is the shortened learning curve for new hires,” says Lynn Insley, Director of the Office of Career Development at Stevens Institute in Hoboken. “Companies expect students to provide value as soon as they join the company, and that’s not something we were seeing prior to the recession.” Job seekers are also navigating an increasing number of positions without benefits—or “consulting opportunities” with no guarantee of conversion to full-time jobs.

Janet Jones, Interim Director of Career Services at Rutgers University, notes that some young people are even opting to bypass the traditional job search by going right into business for themselves. “The students who are most successful are those who have an entrepreneurial spirit, and are able to navigate the opportunities that are open to them,” Crabbe observes. She is speaking for Drew grads, of course. However, this view was shared by all of the college placement professionals interviewed for this story. And for the record, those professionals all represent institutions of higher learning in the Garden State. Their observations and advice are just as relevant to students attending schools outside the state. Indeed, let’s not forget that New Jersey’s greatest export is college students—and that the vast majority will be coming back. We’ll give them a reassuring hug, stuff a few dollars in their pocket, provide meals and laundry service, and offer them a place to rest their heads. And do so gladly. We just don’t want that situation to become a permanent one.

It’s Not Academic

A New Look at the Way We Measure Excellence

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Having recently been coerced into a rousing game of Milton Bradley’s iconic preschool board game, Chutes and Ladders, I was reminded that the players don’t simply go up the ladders and down the chutes aimlessly. Each movement up begins on a square with a picture of a virtuous deed—for example, mowing the lawn or saving a kitten from a perilously high tree limb. The resulting square at the top of the ladder is a picture of the reward for that good deed, such as earning an ice cream sundae or money for a trip to the movies or the circus.

Conversely, reckless behavior—like eating all of the cookies or sneaking a comic book inside one’s history textbook—results in a quick trip down a chute as the deserved consequence of said choice. This popular pastime is perhaps one of the earliest values-based educational games a child might encounter. The message is unequivocal and morally relevant. But is this type of learning experience being woven into the curricula in our schools, where boys and girls spend the majority of their waking hours? Non-cognitive learning and concrete character development are crucial to the development of capable students and solid future citizens.

These qualities are particularly valuable when a young person enters the job market. The question is, how can skills such as resiliency, teamwork, creativity and respect actually be worked into traditional school curricula? These were among the “values” identified and selected in recent conversations among the heads of school of 25 institutions as part of an educational round-table. Other qualities included integrity, grit, empathy and zest—that enthusiasm that keeps us dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. Among the participants was Dr. Chad Small, Headmaster of the Rumson Country Day School in Monmouth County. In his view, these qualities need to be viewed by educators in the same critical context as, say, math and science. “What is crucial to us staying ahead as a country?” he asks. “What precisely is it that makes America great?” This is far from a rhetorical question. Indeed, it is common knowledge that American students have fallen behind other countries in their educational aspirations. This has triggered legislation such as No Child Left Behind.

The crux is that, to support and fund such initiatives, politicians are demanding “measurables,” which in turn lead to test performance-driven teaching. This heresy of emphasis on test scores may well be costing our children dearly, as teachers de-emphasize acquiring values as its own skill set—even though such values are vital to success in career and life, according to recent research. How do we help students in independent schools— and in all schools—to better meet the future head-on? Resilience, maintains Small, is one of the core character traits American schools should be striving to cultivate in their students. Dr. Randy Kleinman, Montclair Kimberley Academy’s Head of Middle School, adds that selfmonitoring, consistent effort and self-advocacy are a part of MKA’s educational mission. “While we do not specifically identify a ‘non-cognitive’ segment of our curriculum, the emphasis on development of those skills is woven into our teaching and the students’ learning experiences throughout our program.” Kleinman says that his faculty has studied the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who emphasizes the importance of “self-insight” and consistent, persistent effort as keys to success.

Dweck is among the many educators, ethicists and academics pondering why attributes such as resilience have dwindled in recent decades. Dr. Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard professor, is also concerned about the priorities of parenting youth in America today. He calls upon parents to reflect upon the emphasis on their children’s happiness, self-esteem and achievement to the extent that these concerns appear to have usurped the importance of more character-driven values. Weissbourd goes on to say that American parents today are so concerned with their children’s achievement and happiness, that they shelter and hover—so much so that they attempt to envelop them in a stifling bubblewrap hug of insulation.

Sparing kids adversity, he insists, actually divests them of coping skills. One might think that schools with religious affiliations would have some advantage in this respect, and perhaps they do. At Delbarton School in Morristown, implicit and explicit methods are used to teach skills like personal responsibility, resiliency, peer leadership, good decision-making, and effective communication. Brother Kevin M. Tidd, a member of the History and English departments who also heads up Delbarton’s Speech and Debate program, describes this focus as part of developing “a young man’s overall moral and religious character.” Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, has gone a step further and adopted the framework and holistic view developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national non-profit organization that advocates the “4 Cs” for student education—Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity.

Assistant Principal Christine McCoid points out that, although “21st Century” connotes proficiency in technology and media, non-cognitive values such as cooperative learning, resiliency and leadership are always incorporated at UC. “We measure the success of our core value integration through observation rather than absolute quantification,” she says, acknowledging that these skills are difficult to put a number on. Small agrees. Education, he says, has been soft in the area of quantifying character development: “We’ve always known we’ve done it, but we haven’t always known how to measure how well we are doing at it.” With regard to such assessment, Small and the 24 other heads of school at the aforementioned round-table prevailed upon the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to step in.

Using the core values identified by the group, ETS created a questionnaire to be distributed to students designed to encourage each child to self-report data regarding his or her character engagement while in school. The collected data will be anonymous, so that no individual student will be singled out. However, a seventh grade class at one school may be compared with another seventh grade class in an attempt to quantify, for example, values such as persistence and creativity. Imagine if high school seniors touted their “Empathy Scores” instead of swapping SATs. SATs matter for 12 months of your life. Empathy matters as long as you live. The Morristown-Beard School makes the concept of “student engagement” a central priority of its curriculum, and has actually attempted to quantify this non-cognitive quality. “We have tried to measure this aspect of life at MBS through administering the National Survey of Student Engagement for the past two years,” explains John Mascaro, Dean of Faculty. “The results of this survey indicate a high level of student engagement, and we feel that this engagement is a key factor in the ongoing success of our students.” Scoring non-cognitive skills may strike some as a little crazy at first. But in this world of scorekeepers, by measuring something, we deem it a metric that matters, that determines progress over time, that encourages goal-setting.

Private school headmasters can look at their Boards (who demand accountability for the “value-added” programs) and say, “This is what makes us better.” That is precisely why independent schools have picked up the gauntlet on this critical issue of character education and quantification. They do not take government money, which means these institutions have the freedom to push the envelope and explore progressive ideas like establishing baseline scores for non-cognitive skills. Why does that matter? Because if you can score something, you can also legislate and fund it. And maybe, if you can put character development on an equal footing with reading, writing and arithmetic, you’ve found the key to putting our kids back on top of the heap. “You have to start somewhere,” Chad Small says. “You’ve got to get the conversation going.”    

 Editor’s Note: Erin Avery runs Avery Educational Resources (averyeducation.com). She holds Master’s degrees from Oxford and Yale Universities.

 

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

By the time students in New Jersey move into middle school, they have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the history, culture and infrastructure of the Garden State. Typically, this subject is taught as part of the Social Studies curriculum in fourth or fifth grade. The answers to these 20 questions can be found in any elementary school textbook…or you could just ask an 11-year-old.

The longest river contained completely within New Jersey is…

a) the Raritan River

b) the Shark River

c) the Hackensack River

 

The native people of New Jersey began farming the land…

a) about 10,000 years ago

b) about 5,000 years ago

c) about 1,000 years ago

 

The first European explorer to set foot on New Jersey soil was…

a) Giovanni da Verrazano

b) Henry Hudson

c) Cabeza de Vaca

 

The first permanent Dutch settlement in New Jersey was called…

a) New Netherlands

b) New Amsterdam

c) Bergen

 

Revolutionary War heroine Molly Pitcher participated in…

a) The Battle of Trenton

b) The Battle of Monmouth

c) The Battle of Short Hills

 

The city of Trenton became New Jersey’s capital in…

a) 1770

b) 1780

c) 1790

 

Between 1918 and 1929, the number of cars in New Jersey rose by more than…

a) 250,000

b) 450,000

c) 650,000

 

Harriet Tubman’s base of operations for the Underground Railroad was…

a) Glassboro

b) Camden

c) Cape May

 

George McClellan, general in chief of the Union Army, was from…

a) Westwood

b) West Orange

c) West New York

 

 

 

Camp Dix (aka Ft. Dix) was built to train troops for…

a) The Spanish-American War

b) World War I

c) World War II

 

The waterway that brought coal from Pennsylvania to New Jersey factories in the 1800s was…

a) The Morris Canal

b) The Erie Canal

c) The Raritan Canal

 

The number of New Jerseyans who served in the military during World War II was just over…

a) 300,000

b) 400,000

c) 500,000

 

The postwar builder who turned Willingboro from a town of 600 to a suburb of 40,000 was…

a) William Carteret

b) William Levitt

c) William Hovnanian

 

The Garden State Parkway opened…

a) in 1949

b) in 1954

c) in 1959

 

The governor who initiated the first state income tax, specifically to support New Jersey’s schools, was…

a) Frank Hague

b) Brendan Byrne

c) Jim Florio

 

 

The state’s famous business slogan is…

a) Business is ripe in the Garden State

b) Your future is just an exit away

c) New Jersey makes, the world takes

 

The two parts of the legislative branch in New Jersey are…

a) the Senate and General Assembly

b) the Governor and Congress

c) the Judicial and Fiscal

 

The Pledge of Allegiance was given as the national oath in 1893 for the first time at…

a) The Newark Train Station

b) The Twin Lights on the Navesink Highlands

c) The steps of the Trenton Courthouse

 

Poet Walt Whitman lived out his final years in…

a) Saddle River

b) Weehawken

c) Camden

 

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark opened in…

a) 1997

b) 1999

c) 2001 A passing grade is 13. Brave enough to check your work? You’ll find the answers in the box at right…

 

Images courtesy of Upper Case Editorial Services

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole

Where is video gaming taking our kids?

Remember the good old days, when homes actually had dens and family rooms? These physical spaces still exist, of course, but thanks to quantum leaps in computing power—and profound shifts in what constitutes social interaction— they have become more and more “virtual.” What we used to call dens we now refer to as home offices. That makes sense, at least. But what of the family room, that once-sacred place where Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit provided the glue for togetherness? In the blink of a generation, it has become the rabbit hole down which ’tweens, teens, twenty-somethings and—in startling numbers—grown-ups disappear for hours on end to play video games. The gaming phenomenon has become a subject of growing interest and concern among educators, employers, psychologists and parents. It has created obstacles and opportunities that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago, and has changed the very definition of what we think of as play.

A LITTLE HISTORY Gaming wasn’t much of an issue when it began in the 1970s. In fact, the word gaming itself did not yet exist. Pong and Space Invaders could be found in arcades and bars, fascinating the quarter-pushers, but the appeal proved limited. However, a new culture had been born. Indeed, 10 years later, Nintendo consoles were everywhere, and games like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and Metroid had parents enforcing strict bedtimes for their prepubescent offspring. The video game industry continued to grow, technologically and financially, as it entered the 21st century. With the doubling of computer power every few years, games had become more complex, more sophisticated and more addictive. And the money being spent on video games by the public was absolutely staggering. Grand Theft Auto IV was released in 2008 and sold six million units, grossing $500 million, in its first week of release. Game developers, now working with squads of brilliant artists, writers, and coders, had tapped into a demand that would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier. Games were modified to be playable not only on hot-selling consoles like Xbox and PlayStation, but on home computers, laptops, tablets and, inevitably, smartphones. With these remarkable advances came a backlash. The assaults came from many quarters—gaming was blamed for teen violence, plummeting verbal abilities, rampaging obesity, and plagues of ADHD, autism and pathological solipsism. College grads, who “should have been” out looking for jobs and spouses, were locking themselves in their darkened rooms with enormous supplies of tortilla chips and diet soda, playing everything from the latest John Madden NFL (total sales for the series estimated at $3 billion) to Guitar Hero, Tiger Woods Golf or Call of Duty.

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WHO’S GETTING HURT? There is widespread agreement that some video games— specifically those emphasizing stealth, violence, misogyny and lawlessness—are unlikely to be positive forces. This is particularly true in the case of pre-teen and adolescent youth, as well as in adolescent males, who tend to lock into these ninja paradigms. Many games enable the player to experience adventure and danger without developing a realistic appreciation of the consequences. Experts are quick to point out real issues even with the seemingly innocuous games that allow kids to experience the mastery of a sport or activity without acquiring the patience and persistence to study and practice. For example, while a child can quickly gain some mastery over any of these games, by contrast an elementary grasp of karate or baseball requires years of constant practice and respect for authority. The boredom and physical discomfort of actually engaging in a sport pay dividends that sitting alone pushing buttons never will. But don’t try telling that to a child who is slugging the ball 500 feet over Yankee Stadium’s virtual fence. Some people go so far as to claim there is a one-to-one relationship between gaming and illegal/antisocial/self-destructive activities. That probably stretches the point a bit too far. If memory serves, teenage boys are not exactly hard-wired to be risk-averse. The better debate is whether certain kids are genetically programmed to be sociopaths. Every time another school shooting occurs, video games are high on the list of proximate causes—right after drug  abuse, parental abuse, and getting ditched by the prom queen. This leads to analyses that defy the basic rules of scientific research: clearly defined parameters, repeatable results, and objective evaluations. As yet, no one has produced a shred of evidence that video games turn troubled boys into monsters.

PARENTAL PERSPECTIVE That being said, a search through the archives of the American Psychological Association web site doesn’t leave a worried parent with many clear answers. For every pro there seems to be a con, and vice-versa. Video gaming may indeed encourage violent behavior in some (possibly predisposed) kids. Sexual stereotyping and objectification also broadens the gender gap. Then again, gaming helps develop better hand-to-eye coordination, faster reflexes and better processing skills. Games may even help to treat dyslexia. The more you read and research, the clearer it becomes that nothing resembling a unified approach to gaming as a potential threat to young people’s development has yet emerged. Nor should anyone expect it to. Concerned parents might be better served by developing some basic tools to encourage moderation in gaming. Because of the popularity of video games, completely eliminating them from a child’s life might be difficult. But according to the non-profit Palo Alto Medical Foundation, you can decrease the negative impact that they have by… Knowing the rating of the video games your children play Not installing video game equipment in your children’s bedroom Setting limits on how often and how long your children are allowed to play video games Monitoring all of your children’s media consumption, including television, movies and the Internet Supervising your children’s Internet use (there are now many video games available for playing online) Taking the time to discuss with your children the games they are playing or other media they are watching— how they feel about what they observe in these video games, television programs or movies Sharing with fellow parents information about certain games or ideas for helping each other in parenting Is it an uphill battle? Of course it is. Parenting is an uphill battle. Are game designers targeting young people? Of course they are—but no more than manufacturers of clothing or fast food or beverages or cosmetics. Commercials for prescription drugs and law firms target adults. Welcome to capitalism. The better question might be: Are we doing enough to identify the kind of at-risk young men and women whose behavior is susceptible to the negative influences of some video games?

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THOUGHTS FROM THE GAMING WORLD Every so often there is a groundswell of interest in regulating the content of video games. As any lawyer will tell you, that gets tricky because the industry will almost certainly put the First Amendment in play. Perhaps it’s not the industry picture that needs to be altered, but the parenting picture. Consider the viewpoint of one young game developer who recently cashed an eight-figure paycheck after selling his company to a major software corporation. His take is that video games have provided many parents with a cheap, popular, absorbing babysitter—one that keeps Junior at home rather than running in the mean streets. “If you don’t think your child should be playing,” he says, “maybe you should buy her a book, or teach him how to do woodworking, or get them aikido lessons. Maybe it’s not the kids who are being irresponsible, but you. There’s nothing inherently evil in gaming, any more than there is in ice cream—it’s not an unqualified evil like tobacco, crystal meth, binge drinking, or unsafe sex. It’s fun, it has positive qualities, it can even be educational. But you need to help your kids develop values and priorities and a sense of balance.” Tens of millions of children have access, by one means or another, to a wide range of video games. Some are despicable, yet others are clearly educational and developmentally sound. Some perspective is called for here. Remember that the overwhelming majority of these children will have their hearts broken, get zits, fail to make the varsity, and wallow in the certainty that their parents neither love nor understand them—all before they reach voting age. Amazingly, they will go on to lead reasonably productive and happy lives.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Everyone in New Jersey thinks they can run an Italian restaurant. I don’t think I want to.

Being part of an Italian restaurant is all I’ve ever known. I was born into a generational, family owned business that has been operating for more than fifty years. My grandfather’s dream was my playpen. Literally. Warm smiles were usually accompanied by a pignoli cookie or a cannoli. The servers were like aunts, uncles and cousins. What a fabulous and affectionate way to spend my childhood. It was not a life of privilege in the conventional sense. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But a wooden one suited me just fine. Of course, the reality of the business eventually climbs into your life. My childhood Candyland was a living, breathing, hectic restaurant. And it wasn’t always sunshine and dreams. My first real job in the restaurant took place at the tender age of 13. Twice a week, for a total of four hours, I labored in the bakery. That time was primarily spent pouting, standing along the wall, brushing crumbs onto the floor and trying to look busy whenever my parents walked in. All the while, the actual workers were glaring at me. I wasn’t helping. I was in their way. Other kids I knew got grounded when they did something wrong. I was forced to help the hostess on busy Saturday nights. I did more moping than greeting. Ironically, when I look back, I would have to say hostessing was my favorite duty. It required the least amount of actual movement or labor, and I got to stand there looking all dolled-up for a few hours. Working in the bakery would come in second, since all I really had to do was fold cake boxes, weigh pastries, hand customers breads or pizzas,

and assemble cookie trays (so that one extra would land in my mouth). My least favorite (and current) duty is waitressing. Although it is the highest-paying job in the restaurant, at the end of a shift I am covered with grease and alcohol, my head is filled with customers’ complaints and I am dog tired. Being a waitress is really hard work. This is compounded by my natural talent for messing up orders, dropping plates and spilling drinks on patrons. Once I was blind-sided by a negative review of my service after I thought I had done an amazing job with a table. The customers’ actions and generous gratuity seemed to confirm this, yet they smack-talked me on the way out to my manager. That was an especially low blow to my ego. Although being part of a restaurant family has its occasional perks, family members tend to get the short end of the stick compared to the employees, particularly when it comes to the more unpleasant jobs.

There have been numerous instances where I’ve had to get down and dirty. Really dirty. When there’s a clog in the restroom, it always falls to a family member because we can’t say, “I quit!” Also, if I have an amazing date on a Saturday night, or maybe I’m just having one of those days, can I call in and say I’m a no-show tonight? Fugghetaboutit. Can they call me in on my day off because someone else left them hanging? Absolutely. So here I am, a struggling writer with a handful of clippings and a college diploma, looking to get out of the restaurant business as soon as I can afford to. It’s not a decision I came to easily. To take over the family business and continue the Piancone legacy would put a colossal beam on my father’s and late grandfather’s faces—especially since I am an only child and the oldest of seven cousins. Although pride would be coursing through their veins, my family members completely support and understand my need to pursue the career of my choosing. And needless to say, without the help from my family and the restaurant, I would not have been able to receive my undergraduate degree, or be able to put money aside for graduate school. Of course, this is New Jersey, so there’s always someone out there dying to run an Italian restaurant. If that’s you, my advice is to involve your extended family—but also to go in with your eyes wide open. You will need a family that is at least semi-stable, and always ready to man-up and hold down the fort. For what it’s worth, here are some additional words of wisdom:

Treat Family & Workplace Like Church & State. No one wants to talk or think about work after they’ve made it back to the sanctuary of the home. Imagine being overworked and exhausted and then having someone—I won’t mention any names, Mom—asking an endless series of rapid-fire questions. Was it busy? How much money did you make? What’s your schedule? How did the food look? Were there a lot of people at the bar? By the same token, everyone needs to leave work baggage at the door. This is definitely easier said than done. It is also inevitable that your personal life will clash with your work life. Expect it, but don’t invite it. Bottom line? Separate home and work problems. Long-term it’s the only successful route to take.

Respect the Pecking Order. The boss is the boss, the chef is the chef, and family members need to fit in to make a place run smoothly. As the boss’s daughter, I got treated differently. The chefs were nice to me even though, as a rule, they don’t have such a peachy demeanor. On the flip-side, no one wants to include you in small talk. It’s amazing how kitchen conversations suddenly end when I pop my head in and say, “What’s up, guys?”

Don’t Take It Personally. If a customer is unhappy with the food or gripes about the service, chances are he or she is complaining about a family member. Let it go. Stay calm and respectful, even if your stomach is tied in knots. Everyone has an off day, including Mom and Dad. In my case, there’s an added twist since my boyfriend works in our restaurant. When a customer calls him a cutie pie, I need to tell myself servers and patrons are always flirting. Again and again and again. All kidding aside, the Piancone family has experienced business and personal success due to our genuine love and passion for the restaurant and one another. Unlike a corporate work environment, our staff is made up of handpicked prodigies that we know truly care about the well-being of the restaurant because they are our best friends. Our church and state may continuously clash, and a few customers may give us grief, but at the end of a long night, we know we’ll come together and share a glass of wine. Which, believe me, beats the heck out of those pignoli cookies.

Editor’s Note: Johnny Piancone (johnnypiancone.com) is located on Broadway in Long Branch. Francesca’s grandfather and his brother started in Bradley Beach in the 1950s. Francesca graduated from Lynn University in Florida. She wrote for Gold Coast magazine before joining the EDGE family.

Hot Colleges

The Cold, Hard Fact

New Jersey’s number-one export is college-bound seniors. During each application period, the nation’s top colleges are flooded with applications from the Garden State. It’s a numbers game that works against our kids. However, if you do a little homework, there are definitely ways to make the numbers start working for you. So with the dark winter of college acceptance letter anticipation upon us, let’s look back at the 2011 application period and see what it has to teach next year’s juniors and seniors. First things first. For the mournful applicants who threw their hats in the Early Decision ring at Ivies such as Brown University—which accepted only 900 of the 2,900 applications—ED now stands for Early Disappointment. Ditto Northeastern, which deferred an inordinate amount of highly qualified Garden Staters. The story was the same in one popular school after another. Indeed, many of our young and talented “intellectual-istas” are now pacing the library aisles hoping that fat envelope shows up in April…and wondering what went wrong. What went wrong is that they all chased after the same hot colleges, essentially forcing the hands of admissions officers to say No. Geographical diversity is a high priority at most top schools. Translation: we can only take so many kids from New Jersey. How do you swing those odds in your favor? That process starts during the critical first steps in the college search and application process.

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MANAGING EXPECTATIONS In order to have successful outcomes, an ounce of expectation management is worth any of those one-pound college guides you’ll be buying at the local Barnes & Noble. Understand where your college-bound child fits into the overall admissions picture. For instance, while GPA is a healthy indicator of a student’s success in college, a 3.0 at The Lawrenceville School is quite different than a 3.0 at nearby Trenton Central High School—with due respect to both. Standardized test scores are also useful in helping a student (and more importantly his or her parents) determine whether or not the student is likely to be admitted or likely to be rejected by a given college. Beyond those quantitative indicators, one must acknowledge that college-admission decisions can also turn on relationships. In addition to an “in” or connection at a school, however, students must also demonstrate a knowledge of the culture and mission of that college—and articulate that interest throughout the application. To do so, successful applicants must really know the colleges to which they are applying. And if that school is a “hot” school, well, they really need to bring their A-Game to the application.

IDENTIFYING A HOT COLLEGE Long before work begins on applications, you can start creating a wish list of schools. That list will almost certainly be populated by a number of hot colleges. That’s fine and that’s fun, but look at those schools and ask yourself, how many of them were popular five or ten or fifteen years ago? Where I’m going with this is that there are a lot of schools right now primed to “join” the hot list. Your job is to identify them before everyone else does. Beating the competition to a hot college is much like picking a stock. First, observe how the school performs over a period of time. Frankly, this is one of the major reasons families come to people in my business. Educational consultants visit numerous college campuses, read The Chronicle of Higher Education and other pertinent periodicals, attend symposia and present at conferences, and nurture ethical relationships with admissions representatives—all on their clients’ behalf. Of course, you can “day-trade” and do the work yourself. Begin by identifying and tracking a college of interest. Some points to consider are: Has this school made a jump in rankings and/or is it rankings-aware? Has there been a recent shift in leadership? Are the current students and grads singing the school’s praises? How strong are the career services and what companies recruit on campus? This information isn’t always easy for a layperson to access or understand, but the more you amass, the better your results will be. One good publication that is literally the length of a church bulletin is the CollegeBound newsletter (collegeboundnews.com), which is very readable and provides real-time admission numbers. I tweet these bitesize stats daily.

NAMING NAMES Without specifically advocating these institutions as bestfits for any individual, here are a couple of examples of what I’m talking about. Ever heard of High Point University, in North Carolina? If not, you will. I have been following High Point for some time now. It has all the earmarks of a hot college due to the leadership of its president, a former CEO with a business-savvy approach to student satisfaction and success. The graduating senior entering just four years ago probably would not be accepted this year in the Early Action pool. Size, location and price-point make this college one to watch. Closer to home, I also like what I am seeing at Drexel University. It stands out among the growing number of colleges offering co-op opportunities. Co-op stands for “cooperative,” which is an option at some colleges that enables students to earn course credits for work experience in the form of approved internships (which are frequently paid!). This option is best suited toward pre-professional students who are actively preparing for a career in a specific field, learn-by-doing students, and students who want “a foot in the door.” An inordinately large number of students are hired by the firms at which they completed their co-ops. It’s not hard to see why schools offering co-op programs have seen their popularity and demand rise over the course of the past three years—while at the same time the precarious economy has called into question the value of the liberal arts education in favor of a skill- and career-based undergraduate education. Making industry connections and building up a résumé all appear to be de rigeur at this juncture, but as a purist, I beg to differ that the liberal arts and sciences are passé. In favor of this argument, take Bucknell University. Tucked away in Western Pennsylvania, this Division I college has grown extremely selective in its admissions decisions over that past decade. The emphasis on interdisciplinary study and engaged learning is helping Bucknell produce superlative leaders and self-starters.

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DOLLARS AND SENSE As college costs skyrocket and family budgets tighten, the “default” pick for many students is the state school or community college. However, that is not necessarily where the higher-education bargains are. Indeed, the changing economy has created some eye-opening options—and potentially an entirely new class of hot colleges. Parents of 10th and 11th grade students at this juncture may want to consider the fact that most students at independent institutions pay less than the published tuition price. According to College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing,” the average student paid $17,000 less than the sticker price at independent colleges and universities in the U.S. in 2010-2011. How is that possible? Federal grant aid for students at state schools is about $3 billion a year. Meanwhile, institutional grants—the free money given to students by the colleges they attend—is around $20 billion! So opting for the state university or community college without exploring the estimated cost after Gift Aid could cost you in the long run. Gift Aid is free money for college that students do not have to pay back. It comes in the form of tuition discounts off the sticker price for attractive applicants. A strong academic profile and high-test scores—which will in turn boost a college’s rankings—are two reasons why colleges would offer Gift Aid to an applicant. By the way, as of last December a mandatory net price calculator must appear on all college web sites. This is a groundbreaking change intended to help families get an early read on the true cost of college. Though each site’s calculator will vary, some will calculate Gift Aid. The bottom line is that the college application process can be a messy one, but it’s definitely manageable. Of the many things that are crucial to keep in mind, perhaps the most important is that college is not a one-size-fits-all prospect. The right school, hot or not, is out there for your collegebound son or daughter. The more effort you put into identifying that school, the better your chances for a positive outcome.

Editor’s Note: When Erin is not authoring articles, she runs Avery Educational Resources (averyeducation.com). She also does pro bono work with children who lost parents on 9/11. A Division I varsity athlete and a competitive Irish step dancer, she holds two Master’s degrees from Oxford and Yale Universities, respectively.

 

The Uncommon App

’Tis the season. No, not of family gatherings and holiday cheer. For college-bound seniors and their parents, it’s crunch time. 

College admissions officers are bracing themselves for the tsunami. Over the next few weeks, the steady stream of applications they have been wading through will turn into an unstoppable torrent. One of the countless charms of the Internet is that it has made the process of applying to multiple schools incredibly simple. A generation ago, high-school seniors would pick a handful of schools—including a reach and a safety—fill out the paperwork by hand, lick the envelope, stamp it, and send it off. Thanks to the common application (aka The Common App) and the wonders of technology, today every one of the 3.5 million teenagers thinking about college can apply to 20 schools with only slightly more effort than it took to lick those envelopes. One thing about teenagers hasn’t changed. No matter how easy the computer has made it for them to apply to college, they somehow find a way to turn the process into a full-on heart attack anyway. The majority of kids will be pushing the SEND button on their applications just a day or two before the deadline. Some will take it down to the final minutes or seconds. While frustrating for parents, engaging in this type of brinksmanship isn’t what should concern the moms and dads of college-bound seniors. The critical time-management issue is making sure that enough thought and effort have been devoted to the creation of an essay for the common application that grabs the attention of even the most overwrought admissions officer. It is the piece that tells a college who a young person is, and helps determine whether he or she would be a good fit for the school. Is your senior‘s essay done? I’m guessing the answer is no. Remove your fingers from around your child’s neck for a moment and take a look at what another kid did. I asked four professionals in the college admissions process to critique this essay. I made it clear that the writer had already matriculated, so we weren’t fishing for praise. Instead, we were looking for specific, constructive criticism that would help members of the Class of 2013 evaluate their college essays as the application deadline nears….

THE ESSAY When life hits you in the face, react with your head, not your hands. I never really knew what my parents were talking about until that awful Sunday afternoon in May. I had struck a section of guardrail with such force, and at such an unusual angle, that it lifted two of the supporting stanchions completely out of the ground. Luckily, I was unhurt. The culprit was long gone. Not a drunk driver. Not some idiot wolfing down a Quarter Pounder while texting on his cell phone. Rather, it was an enormous beetle that had flown through the open, driver-side window—smack into my face. A novice behind the wheel, I swerved left, over-corrected right, and finally lost control at 50 miles per hour. Precisely six weeks after posing for my first driver’s license photo, I had become a cliché. I was shocked and angry and embarrassed. The car was a twisted wreck. It had collapsed around me, absorbing the energy of my high-speed, metal-on-metal encounter. Totaled. It was only later, when I saw photos of the car and revisited the scene of the accident, that I realized how fortunate I was. Had I swerved 20 feet sooner I might have been cleaved by a telephone pole. Had I left the road 20 feet farther down the hill, I would have launched myself into a ravine. Teenagers are not wired to contemplate their own demise, yet whenever I drive past this spot it is hard to think of anything else. In time I realized something slightly more profound. By handing the keys to a newly minted driver, mom and dad were giving me that first terrifying (for them) taste of true independence that’s part of the letting-go process of parenthood. While all I saw was the upside, they had quietly thought through the downside and purchased the automotive equivalent of a Panzer—a used Audi wagon that was basically conceived and constructed to crash into guard rails and deliver young drivers back to their parents older, wiser and relatively unscathed. I might mention here that I had lobbied briefly for a Thunderbird convertible (yeah, dream on!). It’s less than a year later and my parents are now preparing to hand me the keys to a college education. They will be writing out another large, painful check and making me the driver of my own life. How terrifying this is for them I can only guess. Recently, I found myself telling a friend “when life hits you in the face, react with your head, not your hands.” She wasn’t really sure what I was talking about, but a few weeks later, she found herself wrapped around a telephone pole thanks to an adventurous squirrel. At this point, it is safe to say that almost everyone in our group of friends has both heard and understood this bit of wisdom. Of course, part of giving advice is accepting that advice yourself. And in that spirit, I would like to tell my parents what I have learned. Next time I will react with my head and not my hands. That’s a no-brainer, so to speak. And although I still feel indestructible, I also know grave consequences await both my actions and in-actions. Mostly what I’d like to tell them is that in choosing a college, I now know I’m looking for the Audi, not the T-bird. I’d like to tell them…but I won’t. As they taught me, sometimes you just have to figure things out for yourself.  

THE FEEDBACK All four of our experts agreed on two things. The essay demonstrated excellent writing skills, but also fell short of that certain something admissions officers love to see in an essay: Wow Factor. “I really enjoyed the opening. It grabbed my attention and piqued my curiosity,” says Lear. However, he maintains that the subject matter was potentially risky, as some colleges might view the author as “a rather spoiled, a suburban poet without any real wisdom to impart.” “While good writing is good writing, period,” Lear explains, “students need to tell a good story and try to exhibit some real depth. Introspection is an underrated trait, and students are often quick to wrap up their essays too simply or neatly. Embracing ambiguity and thinking deeply before writing are two tips I would offer seniors.” “I thought it was well written, but it ultimately left me scratching my head,” says Cohen, who wanted to know more about the student than was revealed in the essay. “It didn’t tell me enough about the writer as a person. He/she spent entirely too much time on the accident. Ultimately schools are looking for Who are you? How are you going to fit in?” “I like the line about the ‘grave consequences await both my actions and inactions,’’ says Maciag. “This line can send a powerful message. I feel a more substantive essay could have come out of this line than ‘reacting with my head not my hands.’” An essay is supposed to tell the admissions committee something about yourself that is not revealed in the application, Maciag points out. “I did not get this from the essay. I felt the essay included too many details about the accident that had no bearing on the lesson learned.” Mulligan points out that the essay does achieve something critically important. “It was engaging from the start,” she says. “The subject matter caught my attention and kept me reading to find out how it all ended. In the days when admissions folks are reading thousands of essays this is so important—to keep eyes from glazing over and hold the attention of the reader. For the most part, he or she is a solid writer with a terrific vocabulary and good writing style. The essay puts the student in an interesting story, which I like.” When asked if the essay would be better for one type of school over another, Mulligan pointed out that this actually should not be a consideration for the main essay. “Students are attempting to tell the schools who they are,” she explains. “This is their big chance—often the only forum. It is not like Cinderella and the glass slipper, I tell my students. You are not trying to fit yourself into a school, or gear an essay to a school. You are trying to see if a school fits you, and so the essay is about you…and you should not change it to fit different tiers of schools.” To the What type of school… question, Lear had a more succinct response: “One that doesn’t allow freshmen to drive cars.”

Editor’s Note: Assignments Editor Zack Burgess writes on culture, politics and sports for a number of publications and web sites. His work can be seen on zackburgess.com. The young author of the essay in this story was accepted by (and now attends) a Top 30 university.

Summer Slide

Students begin each new school term with a review period. Should parents have one, too?

Studies show that children typically forget 20% of what they learn from the end of one school year to the start of the next. If only their parents retained knowledge that well! Indeed, at the start of each new school year, many grown-ups show the effects of “summer slide” more than their kids do. They forget the ironclad rules of student-parenting and, in some cases, overlook the fact that their offspring are becoming more capable and mature with each passing school year. Parental participation in a child’s education is encouraged and welcome. Different schools handle this in different ways, of course, but what they all have in common is a bumpy back-to-school period where teachers, administrators, moms and dads can struggle to regain their bearings. Unfortunately, there’s no review period for parents. “Communication is always critical to a successful school opening,” says Nancy Leaderman,

 

Upper School Principal at the Golda Och Academy, in West Orange. “The transition from the relaxed days of summer into a more structured daily experience can be challenging.” How does that challenge manifest itself? Occasionally, says Nat Conard, Headmaster at The Pingry School’s Martinsville campus, it often comes in the form of parents who have good intentions but unreal expectations. “Families at our school are very committed to getting their children the best possible education,” he explains. “The parents want the best for their kids.” Teachers across the state echo this sentiment. In fact, it’s important to note that many educators are parents themselves. They understand better than anyone the delicate balance required to provide a nurturing, healthy school environment—and to let kids find their own way. “We want students to be active participants in their education,” says Christine McCoid, Assistant Principal at Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains. Problems tend to crop up when parents overstep established boundaries. According to Monsignor Kevin Hanbury, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Newark, that is sometimes the case when a school needs to discipline a student. “Parents have to be honest,” he says. “They have to acknowledge that their kids aren’t angels.” Msgr. Hanbury believes this mindset is part of the “cult of self-esteem that is ruining our children.” He feels that parents have to set realistic goals for their kids. “You don’t have to dumb everything down,” he says. “That doesn’t prepare kids for the challenges of real life.” He gets no argument from Peggy Campbell Rush, Lower School Director for the Gil St. Bernard’s school in Gladstone. “Some parents try to live vicariously through their kids,” she says. “You might be able to get away with that in elementary school, but ultimately it’s a teacher’s job to help children learn to be independent and morally and socially responsible.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Every school has a different code of conduct, and every teacher has a different style of educating students. But all agree on at least one thing: creating open and free lines of communication with parents is essential. Indeed, at schools statewide, there is a premium placed on including parents in the learning experience. A good example is Oratory Preparatory School in Summit. “Parents are encouraged to be a part of their child’s education process,” says Susan Dougherty, the school’s Public Relations Coordinator. “We don’t hold hands, but we do give parents and teens the tools they need to chisel out their own pathway on the road to higher education.” One way that Oratory does this is by posting all homework assignments online—standard practice for an increasing number of New Jersey schools. Scores on tests and quizzes are displayed periodically, as well. “Parents know exactly how their child did on a given day with a specific test,” says Dougherty. Offering online access to a student’s day-to-day activities has also become more prevalent. But it does have potential drawbacks. For some parents, monitoring their child’s performance can turn into an obsession.

The tech age has also led to problems with cell-phone use in schools. Texting is probably the most disruptive factor of all. According to McCoid, parents are often as guilty of this as their kids. “We have strict regulations for our students about cell phones,” she says. “They can’t be seen or heard during the day. Unfortunately, we have no way of enforcing this rule with parents. We’re trying to educate them that, although they have the ability to communicate directly with their kids, it’s not always appropriate.” According to Gloria Kron, Lower School Principal at Golda Och, that’s where schools have to work extra-hard to establish ground rules. “With parents who are ‘overly involved,’ we use our best judgment about whether the classroom teacher, school guidance counselor or administrator should communicate appropriate and helpful boundaries in order to highlight increased success for student development,” she says. Conard embraces a similar approach with the families at Pingry. “Sometimes, you need to be quite direct before the school year starts,” he says. “It all comes back to shared recognition of the partnership between parents and the school.” One of the problems that Leaderman has dealt with at Golda Och are moms and dads who insist on a specific teacher for a student. “Parents often need to be reassured that we have appropriately placed their children in the correct levels, with the appropriate teachers and friends,” she says. Campbell Rush has had similar experiences, noting that a good deal of thought goes into class placement. “I don’t mind if parents come to us with valid concerns,” she says, “but they have to realize that we work very hard to achieve classroom balance.” One of the classic summer slide no-no’s is bypassing the chain of command. That could mean ignoring security stops or the administrative office when entering a school. Or it might be going over a teacher’s head and seeking an audience with a principal or administrator for what is strictly a classroom issue. As any educator will tell you, this type of behavior ultimately impedes the educational process.

It can undermine a teacher’s authority and create an adversarial relationship between the parent and the school. It can also be a burden on the child. “Students study and achieve best when they are respected, challenged, encouraged and supported in a nurturing environment,” says Sister Regina Martin, Principal at Mother Seton Regional High School in Clark. “At home and in school.” Educators emphasize this point again and again. If they don’t have the support and cooperation of parents, their jobs become all the more difficult and the children are the ones who lose. “We’re in the business of joyful learning,” says Campbell Rush. “It’s okay for parents to ask questions, but there has to be a level of trust.”

The Art of the Reach

Knowing how to get into the ‘best possible college’ starts with understanding what that actually means.  

We have all consumed the Kool-Aid. We all crave and covet the translucent rear-windshield sticker announcing to the community what a great job we did getting our child into a name-brand college. In doing so, however, we are committing a heresy of emphasis; we have become so obsessed with the outcome that we have overlooked the whole point of the process. As a Certified Educational Planner with many years in the trenches of the “admissions game” (as one colleague playfully refers to it), I have accumulated an abundance of two things: anecdotes and raw data. The data speaks for itself; in the end, numbers are numbers. But the anecdotes—the “data” lived out through the hearts, hands, and hormones of respiring teenaged beings—is why I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life. It is this passion that is incendiary with my students; it is the invisible permission slip for each of them to permit themselves to dream of a life and future that is so meaningful, so gratifying, so spectacularly promising, that they cannot help but begin to vision what it might be. Which is why nothing makes me cringe like hearing a parent say, “WE want to apply to…” My philosophy is this: Focus on the student’s process of growth and self-discovery in the college application process, and the ideal college match will be the beautiful consequence. Your child’s “reach” school may not even be on your radar when you begin. Thus your first and most important effort should be to identify the best possible destination—not just for those four wonderful years, but for the rest of his or her life. I may be uttering heresy to those Type A’s among us (myself included) who cleave to the Machiavellian means-to-an-end mentality of Why do anything if it doesn’t get you to the next level in life? But the experts back me up. Steve Antonoff, of Antonoff and Associates in Denver, Colorado, says this about people in my profession: “The treasure the consultant has is not the list, the treasure lies in figuring out who a young person is and helping them discover what colleges will be the best fit for them.” What Antonoff is gesturing at is that a great consultant—or a great guidance counselor, or a wise mentor—will do whatever it takes to: 1) cut through the teen peer-pressure culture that oppressively enforces conformity, 2) focus on students for who they are, and 3) mirror back to them the unique gifts with which they have been blessed. In my own practice, I encourage each young person not to put his or her light under a basket, but to hold it aloft so as to illuminate the room, the school, the community and, I daresay, the globe. Only then does a true picture begin to emerge of the “best possible college.” Only then can a young person start building an application strategy to get into that school. In that spirit, consider the experiences and outcomes of the following four students…

JANET: Almost Famous Janet attended a “magnet” public high school. She excelled academically and acquired along the way a specialization, due to the unique coursework and curriculum of her specialized high school. With a friend (and following the promptings not of her single parent, but of her passion), she began a music and entertainment web site. This enabled her to obtain press passes, which she and her friend used to gain backstage access at various performances and concerts. What would have been fun and games for her peers was work for Janet. She spent countless hours preparing questions for interviews and then sitting with musicians pre-performance. But Janet’s love of this subject made this work feel like play. She would then blog about her interviews on the website, which developed a devoted readership (à la Almost Famous). When Janet came to me to select colleges, her mother was concerned about pursuing too narrow of a focus in music industry management. Herein lay the folly. While I understood her mother’s apprehension, Janet was perfectly poised, based on her industry exposure and connections to be an ideal candidate to such coveted programs as the Clive Davis Department at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and Drexel University’s Music Industry program. These are specialized and, as such, require specialized students who  “make sense” to the admissions reader. Not only was Janet accepted to every college to which she applied, she received copious amounts of merit aid to incentivize her to come hither.

JULIA: Model Applicant Julia, a print-model blonde go-getter with a husky voice, possessed perhaps the healthiest self-esteem I have ever encountered in a young adult from a public high school. My preconceived notion of the modeling industry’s impact on a teen was that the vulnerability, competition and rejection based on the mercurial whims of anonymous PR marketers would crush a young person’s confidence and spirit. However, Julia not only developed real empathy for the outcast and socially ostracized, but a “centeredness” wherein her confidence emanated from an aquifer within. The resilience she learned from the endless industry “go-sees” amplified her determination and attenuated her fear of failure—a debilitating attribute of today’s Millennials. She got passionately involved with a buddying program that pairs special-needs adolescents with their peers. Julia shot high, landing among the stars, at a small liberal arts college that is providing her the raised academic bar that she did not always receive during her high-school experience. She is “opening it up” as they say on the Autobahn and seeing just how fast those horses under the hood can take her. Yet it wasn’t without a fight. Julia aimed very high and was waitlisted. She did not have a final answer until the summer months. However, when she received that all-important call back, she immediately seized the opportunity! Fortuitously, the waitlist situation provided an opportunity for all the eager adults in Julia’s life to clamor on her behalf to the admissions representative reading her application—evidence that the squeaky wheel does get the grease. Julia’s tenacity, her “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude—combined with persistence and patience—earned her acceptance to her “reach” school.

ADDIE: Academic Goddess Addie is a gifted scholar with the intellectual Midas touch. Her challenge lay in discerning a focus, as she truly excelled in every subject area—in addition to being a concert pianist and visual artist. I often wondered if she descended directly from Mount Olympus or, at the very least, possessed a divine bloodline. I encouraged Addie over the course of our two-year consulting relationship to begin to explore “insights,” those tenuous moments of epiphany in which an overlap or connection between two or more seemingly disparate disciplines collide and novel and nascent ideas are born. She researched a summer program in London that amalgamated her love of art history with her burgeoning interest in the fashion industry. Leave it to Addie to design, for her culminating assignment, contemporary street wear employing medieval monastic and Tutor-inspired hoodies for the common hip-hop man on the street! Upon her return, we explored the conundrum of the typical fashion studies program: Fashion minus intellectual rigor. The notable exception was Cornell’s Fiber Science and Apparel Design Program in the College of Human Ecology. Addie scheduled a visit, and with her stellar grades and the ideal programmatic fit, she was ushered in Early Decision and could not be more elated to this day.

ROGER: Mr. Clutch Roger is another story entirely. A lovable guy, Roger stood 5’ 5” in cleats. Conspicuously smaller than his teammates, Roger chose the topic of being the runt underdog and had lots of fun with himself throughout his personal statement. He came across as affable, humble and perseverant—three characteristics that we brainstormed during his second foot swinging session in my office’s pair of worn leather chairs. Roger also conveyed depth. His father’s work revolves around cars and Roger had developed an abiding passion for all things automotive, including a deference for Lee Iaccoca. He wrote a moving essay tying the current event of the American car-maker crisis to the future of business in America, which earned him an acceptance off the waitlist at a notable undergraduate institution with an accomplished undergraduate school of business. Roger channeled his passion and, through his voice, translated his ardor for cars and the automotive industry into a profoundly passionate plea to be admitted. He succeeded. It was a testament to colleges wanting doers a well as believers.

Pop Quiz: What’s the common denominator that enabled these kids to first identify and then successfully apply to the best possible college? If you answered passion, you have cracked the proverbial code. Bravo. Now, for the extra credit. What have you done to model that level of passion for your own student? Have you drawn out of yourself or your child a love so profound, an interest so strong that as much of your free time as possible is spent gathering information about that passion without counting the hours? Or have you encouraged résumé-padding or highlighted the “because it looks good for college” rationale? If you are raising a recalcitrant leader, soul-search as to why. Do you have the tendency to swoop in and take over school projects or science fair experiments? Do you occasionally or frequently send the message You are not actually capable of doing this yourself, therefore, I must help you? We Type A’s do so unwittingly—from the moment we tie their shoes— because we don’t have the patience to wait for them to do it themselves. And besides, it has to be a certain way, doesn’t it? If passion is the birth, then ownership is the conception. You hear your child needs a “hook” to get into college, so you steer him toward Habitat for Humanity. But can he swing a hammer? Does he have a heart for the homeless or disenfranchised? Listen intently to him. What does your child find outrageous? Enervating? Inconceivably unjust? What website (besides Facebook) does your child most frequent? Remember when he was into dinosaurs and you took him to the museum, and reread him that book ad nauseum? Remember when she loved those Pokemon characters and you listened as she recited the hundreds of different permeations she had memorized? What about that train kick, or that vampire phase? Perhaps, over time, you have fanned the flame of their curiosity. Do so now. Do so always. But avoid seizing the stick and flint and attempting to ignite it for them, because unless they can own the process, they can never fully or truly own the outcomes. EDGE

 Editor’s Note: When Erin is not authoring articles, she runs Avery Educational Resources (averyeducation.com). She also does pro bono work with children who lost parents on 9/11. A Division I varsity athlete and a competitive Irish step dancer, she holds two Masters degrees from Oxford and Yale Universities, respectively.

Hot Pads

Tablets join SMART Boards, e-Readers and other technologies that are transforming the classroom experience.

Around this time last year, Steve Jobs introduced the iPad to an eagerly waiting world. For many tech critics, the device was a head-scratcher. It was dubbed the “Giant iPhone” by its detractors. Among those who immediately saw the awesome potential of the iPad were educators. Tablet devices and e-readers (by this time next year there may be close to 100 out there!) seemed tailor-made for the technological needs and aspirations of schools at every level. Teachers, students and educational researchers all nod in agreement that we have come to at an important place in the evolution of learning. Things seem to be changing at light speed. The same pulse-quickening technology that drives lunchroom chatter is finding its way into classrooms all over the state in the form of SMART Boards, iPads and other devices that connect kids to information in attention grabbing ways. It’s an exciting time to be a student. For teachers, it’s a time of transition. They must evolve with the technology. Fortunately, the traditional forms of delivering information, despite losing ground, are not leaving the scene.

 

Teachers know how to get students involved and active, and emerging technology is just another weapon in their arsenal. Power, after all, comes not from a cord. Knowledge is power. Allison May, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Chatham Day School, confirms that the newest trends in education rely on technology. “Technology allows teachers to personalize education more effectively,” she says. “By using the Kindle and iPads, teachers can attract more students to read.” May also notes that online textbooks offer myriad tools for teachers to engage and retain students’ attention. At the Pingry School, teachers have found integrating tablets into the classroom flow to be a more or less natural process. “They are using iPads to create a forum for discussion, and a way to share which apps are working best for each student,” reports Ted Corvine Sr., Pingry’s Assistant Headmaster and Lower School Director. “The next generation of technology is creating additional opportunities for differential learning and student collaboration in the classroom.” At Oak Knoll School in Summit, students are benefiting from technology and online capabilities. They learn how to sift through data on wiki sites, utilize digital cameras, make use of computers, apply software and employ apps to learn, and make multimedia presentations. Science teacher Tatiana Kurjaninow notes, “Because businesses, companies and educational institutions are collaborating more online than ever, I believe it is so important for us to be teaching our students how to use these technology tools now in the classroom.”

 

Technology is also transforming the way parents, students and teachers keep in touch. Through email, blogs, and teacher websites, parents can communicate with the school 24/7. As we grown-ups catch up to our tech-savvy kids, this kind of communication will eventually just become a part of ordinary parenting. Jennifer Phillips, Director of Educational Advancement at Far Hills Country Day School, predicts that, 10 years from now, no one will be questioning the role of technology in schools. Everyone will have it and everyone will use it. “No longer will we be asking, ‘Should we use technology in this lesson?’ Technology will be portable and accessible all the time, everywhere—and a given tool for all learning.” When Donna Toryak of Mount Saint Mary Academy looks into her crystal ball, she predicts that paper, pencils and textbooks will be passé, and will no longer be a staple of the traditional classroom. “Online and virtual classrooms may replace what we now see as students sitting in rows at desks, listening to a lecture or annotating the day’s lessons. Technology is a very thrilling theme for the future.” The future has arrived at a growing number of New Jersey schools, and in some cases it’s in the hands of four-year olds. The Rumson Country Day School built a Passport to Adventure afternoon enrichment program around 10 recently purchased iPads. “Our pre-school iPad program enables students to learn through interaction with technology,” explains Laura Small, a teacher and administrator at RCDS. “They practice and master letter recognition, handwriting and math concepts technologically as well as traditionally.

 

The iPads also enable our preschoolers to explore hands-on different cultures, traditions and animals from around the world.” Remember when teachers used to reprimand students for having their heads in the clouds? Well, Michael Chimes, Director of Academic Technology at Gill St. Bernard’s School in Gladstone, looks into the future and says, “Institutions like our school, and users like our faculty and students, will move to the Cloud.” The Cloud is a service that stores applications and data on remote servers, allowing users to access programs and files without having to invest in expensive hardware or software. It is sometimes referred to as virtualized computing. “In other words, remote servers will hold the software and the files we work with,” says Chimes. “The web and all that is available will be far more accessible.” For budgetary reasons—with which New Jersey parents are all too familiar—the most sophisticated learning technology tends to be in private schools right now, from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. However, most schools have begun the transition to new technology and, as competition between hardware and software manufacturers intensifies, those schools that have had to wait will find it less expensive to play catch-up. For now, the price tag of staying on the leading edge is still considerable. With tuitions rising in private schools and public school budgets gobbling up 60 to 70 percent of property taxes in some towns, many would argue that this is not a good time to pour precious dollars into educational gadgetry. Granted, keeping up with technology may seem expensive and taxing. But, in the end, the price of ignorance is so much greater.

Up for Discussion

A lifelong appetite for reading begins with that first taste in the classroom.

A great debate is raging in the tech world. It concerns the type of devices today’s youth will be using to read books a decade from now. Will there be a way-cooler version of the iPad? Will smart phones become personal libraries? Will the printed page magically appear in space a foot or two away? Fun stuff. Star Trek stuff—going where no book has gone before. But these flights of fancy tend to overlook a more immediate issue concerning New Jersey’s parents and educators: Will tomorrow’s 20-somethings be reading books at all? Before sounding the alarm bell too loudly, it’s worth noting that New Jersey students, as a group, mop up on just about every standardized test that measures reading proficiency. However, proficiency does not guarantee a lifelong love of reading. Every scrap of evidence available on the reading habits of adults tells us that they echo their experience with literature in grade school and high school. Indeed, kids who regard reading as an unpleasant reality of their education— or worse, as cruel and unusual punishment that steals precious time away from video games, social networking and VH1—are unlikely to pick up a decent book after the age of 20. Conversely, kids who encounter great books and great teachers, or who are at least challenged in some way by important literature, are not only far more inclined to be eager readers throughout adulthood. They are much more likely to see the world in a layered and sophisticated way. Given the powerful pull of competing media, when is the right time to start introducing great books to young readers? Although educators may quibble about theories and practices, on this one point, there is near-universal agreement. Harriet Marcus, chair of the Upper School English Department at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, insists that it is “never too early to present the great universal ideas to children.” Jane Freeman, of Solomon Schechter Day School in West Orange, maintains that great literature should be introduced from the moment “a child can understand the spoken word.” Noreen Andrews, of Union Catholic in Scotch Plains, concurs. “At birth,” she smiles. Actually, there’s some truth to this idea. “Babies are introduced to great literature when they are sung to and read to as infants,” points out Sister Regina Martin, Principal of Mother Seaton Regional High School in Clark. She says that “while the books they hear are not great classics per se, babies learn to love the sound of literature, whether it is from a song, a nursery rhyme, or a bedtime story.” Once a school gets its hands on a young reader, that’s when things can go very right or very wrong. Talented and impassioned leadership is a must; even for the most taciturn of students, a teacher’s enthusiasm for the material ultimately will prove contagious. An instructor whose primary goal is to plow through the material, test the kids and then move on, is likely to leave uninspired readers in his or her wake. From a parent’s perspective, there is only so much influence you can exert when it comes to picking a teacher to foster a love of books. Whether your child is in public or private school, it’s a hiring and firing issue that is out of your hands. Where parents can affect the outcome (besides encouraging reading at home, of course) is by asking questions about a school’s class size and format. Classroom discussion is absolutely, positively the number one factor when it comes to understanding and appreciating literature. Here, the private schools—by virtue of their smaller class sizes—typically have a distinct edge. Andrews says that small-group discussions “enable students and teachers to dig deeper for the full experience.” Karen Calta, Assistant Directress at Mount St. Mary Academy in Watchung, adds that they are “invaluable in that they serve students well in many academic areas.” Calta explains that students across a wide range of subjects are encouraged at Mount St. Mary to develop their own interpretations, while teachers serve as guides. Andrew Webster of The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison agrees that an understanding and appreciation of literature is not merely a means for improving academic performance in English. “Done properly,” he says, “it enriches the lives of students and their understanding of what it means to be human. It allows them to step beyond their own experience, develop empathy, and form careful judgment.” According to Nat Conard, Headmaster of The Pingry School, literary discussion does more than motivate, challenge and engage. In a learning environment that embraces diversity (Pingry counts itself among the New Jersey schools that draw from a particularly broad cultural, religious and socioeconomic spectrum), it also fosters an appreciation for multiple viewpoints. “In class discussions, our students hear ideas from students whose backgrounds are very different than their own,” Conard says. Of course, the “must-reads” provide plenty of fodder for class discussion. Simple themes have a fun way of fueling spirited debates. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the lesson is that cruel people can change. In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, young readers learn that strong people can help those in trouble. William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a reminder that life can be filled with fantasy and fun. A great book is never finished saying what it intended to say. The words may have been consumed and the thoughts digested, but the ideas never stop. The classics go on teaching, inspiring and enlightening long after that first, indelible classroom experience. And like the moon that goes through phases and moods, so do young people and their relationship with books. Their interpretations grow. They change and they question. And, if everything goes right, as they move into adulthood, their hunger for the printed word is never satisfied. EDGE

 EDITOR’S NOTE: Diane Alter is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She has become our go-to girl whenever there’s a high-risk, low-reward story to be done. Before we sent Diane “back to school” for this story, she was assigned to cover the dating scene in New Jersey and New Jersey after midnight—with explicit instructions to produce two entirely different articles (which, somehow, she did). A couple of years ago, for another magazine, Diane checked herself into a monastery for a weekend of quiet reflection about her previous life working for a huge financial services company. Talk about penance!

 

The Private Option

The state’s public schools are coping with shrinking budgets and teacher layoffs. Many parents are asking: ‘So what’s the deal with private schools?’

Say what you will about New Jerseyans. Compared to the average American, we are pretty darn smart. The numbers don’t lie. Our children consistently score at or near the top of the national rankings for math, reading, writing, standardized tests and  percentage of high-school grads headed to college. Some have observed that college students represent the state’s number-one export. As a people and as a state, in good times and bad, we spend a ton of money on K-thru-12 education. So how come we’re so clueless when it comes to choosing between public and private schools? Almost every parent agonizes over this  choice at one time or another. We weigh every variable, examine each statistic, poll our friends, and attempt to reconcile this information with our family and cultural values. Then figure out what we can and cannot afford. These are not simple  calculations. Ultimately, we go with our gut…and hope we’ve made the right decision. Statistically, the case for public education in New Jersey is a strong one (see sidebar). In addition, the state’s public schools hold the promise of a more realistic and representative preview of life, bringing together young people from different cultural and economic  backgrounds, with a wide range of academic capabilities and learning skills. Public schools also tend to have more competitive sports programs and, in the case of New Jersey’s magnet schools, focused educational tracts for high-achieving
students—from Engineering to Communications to Marine Sciences. Intellectually, we know that private schools tend to offer a number of advantages, including spiffier amenities and traditions of high achievement. Most of these are linked to the fact that private schools do not receive tax dollars, and thus are free from the vagaries of state policy-makers and budget woes, like the one we’re in right now. Private schools are free, so to speak, to do as they please—or, more to the point, to do as parents please.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
What bang do private-school parents expect for their tuition buck? For many families, the decision is all about college; the sooner they “mainstream” their kids, the better the university they are likely to attend. For others, the pull of going private is the extra attention that they believe will be (and typically is) lavished upon their offspring. And, of course, for some families, a driving force behind writing that big tuition check is the belief that it will open up all kinds of new social opportunities. Elizabeth O’Mara, Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications at Far Hills Country Day School, views the social  component of a private school experience through a different prism. It is an outgrowth of what she considers to be one of the key advantages of going private: an understanding of the partnership between school and home. “The school becomes the neighborhood for many of our families,” O’Mara says. “We have a community where parents are encouraged to get involved in the classroom and out. We think of our parents as partners. We value inclusion, and we ask parents and faculty to model that for our students.” Chad Small, Headmaster of Rumson Country Day School, has worked as a teacher and administrator in both sectors. He points out an inherent strength in this sense of community. “Families have chosen us and want to work with us,” explains Small. “If they don’t like us, or we don’t like them, it’s ‘See you later.’ That enables us to develop a core
sense of values we can pursue, in our case Kind, Honest, Respectful and Responsible.”

IT’S ACADEMIC
For those able to wangle the added cost of a private education, the benefits to the family as a whole are secondary to the advantages awaiting the individual student. That being said, the job of private schools is not to spin straw into gold. Rather, it is to maximize a child’s academic opportunities and challenges. To the naked eye, the greatest difference between private and
public education in New Jersey is class size. In this case, looks definitely are not deceiving. Every administrator contacted for this story ranked the smaller class sizes in their schools at or near the top of the list when asked about key points of differentiation. Obviously, this translates into more “teacher time” per student. But what does that mean exactly? In most cases, it gives schools the flexibility to recognize the different ways kids learn and achieve excellence. For schools that begin in kindergarten, it also translates into a formal plan for social and emotional learning, which is designed to create a stronger academic foundation, as well as opportunities for leadership. The goal is to turn out a child who is self-reliant, flexible and confident both in and out of school. Directly and indirectly, this is actually where a high percentage of tuition dollars go. Because its curriculum is not mandated by any legislative body, a private school can aim as high as it wants in terms of the type and quality of education it offers. It can be more rigorous, offering courses  such as Latin and Language Arts to grade-schoolers. It is also free to make course alterations when new research compels it to. Unlike public schools, private schools must continuously strive to improve. If they don’t, they risk going out of business.

NARROWING THE FIELD
Among the many private education choices in New Jersey are myriad schools with some type of religious affiliation, and also single-gender schools. Both have an added element of “mystery” for prospective parents, particularly if they did not attend these types of schools themselves. In terms of size, quality and cost, faith-affiliated schools (for lack of a better catch-all term) run the gamut. Many of these institutions also happen to be single-gender, such as highly regarded Mount Saint Mary in Watchung and Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child, which is located in Summit, both of which are all-girls. Needless to say, the perceived benefit of a religious school is the attention given to a student’s spiritual development. For some families, this is a primary concern when choosing a private school. To others, it’s an afterthought. Timothy Saburn, Head of School at Oak Knoll, sees spiritual development as part of the bigger picture of community. “It’s an important aspect of a successful school today, whether independent, public or otherwise,” he maintains. “Our school culture and program foster a sense of community, which is grounded in our spiritual commitment.” Does that hold true even when a student happens to adhere
to a faith other than the one with which a school is affiliated? Donna Toryak, Admissions Director at Mount Saint Mary
Academy, insists that it does. “The values, code of ethics, discipline and spirituality are universal features that attract
the applicants,” she says. “The faith journey of each student is enriched no matter what the practice of venerating their
own God.” In terms of the gender question, Saburn cites a 2009 UCLA study. It suggests that graduates of girls’ secondary schools have a definite edge over their co-ed peers. “This current research validates, and Oak Knoll proves,” he says, “that
young women in a single-sex learning environment are setting high educational goals, breaking gender barriers, and emerging as leaders. Our young women graduate with a sense of purpose and much promise; they have found their voices and are committed to making their marks in the world.” Finally, at the top of the private-education food chain in New
Jersey are its boarding schools, including world-class institutions such as Peddie, Blair and Lawrenceville. The decision to send one’s child off to boarding school—and how to pick the right one—is an article unto itself. For the purposes of this story, suffice it to say that for families leaning toward boarding school as a high-school option, the Garden State offers some superb options for those who don’t care to schlep to Massachusetts.

STARTING EARLY, FINISHING STRONG
For many families weighing the pros and cons of going private, decision time can come prior to first grade. More than 50,000 children each year are enrolled in private-school pre-K programs in New Jersey. The number of six year olds in private schools drops to around 15,000. From there the enrollment numbers dwindle by a few hundred a year until ninth grade, when there is a jump back up over 15,000. Families sending their public middle schoolers to private day schools and boarding schools account for some of this bump. However, in any given school year, a recent study showed, as many as one in five families is moving a child from public to private, or private to public, so it’s a fluid situation to say the least. What  happens after high school? For private-school educators and parents, this is where the rubber meets the road. For the  overwhelming majority of kids in private secondary education, college is not just an option. It is the next thing they will do. Will the same kid get into a better college as a private-school senior or a public-school senior? The answer honestly depends on the kid as much as the type of school. However, where private schools offer a clear advantage is in the college advisory and application process. There simply is no comparison. Students enrolled at private schools in almost all cases receive much better preparation for their college years.

According to Toryak, this is a result of several factors. “They are surrounded by classmates with similar values with regard to education and their future,” she points out. “They are success- and goal-oriented, and focus on their current situation as a stepping stone to the college years ahead.” Toryak adds that, because most private high schools have established communications and relationships with colleges, their counselors are better at helping students navigate what has become an increasingly tricky acceptance process. Willard Taylor Jr., Director of Admissions at Newark Academy, believes that private schools are also equipped to determine the “best fit” for students when it comes time to narrowing down their college choices. In terms of the commonly held belief that a top school “automatically” gets kids into a top college, he insists that strong students take care of that themselves. “What an independent school will do,” Taylor says, echoing the thoughts of his peers, “is give a student the opportunity to stand out…to participate and perform at a high level academically, athletically, and in the arts.” EDGE

Editor’s Note: Mark Stewart has two teenage daughters. One opted for public education, the other for private. Both attended a private day school through eighth grade.

Help…I Need Somebody

A beginner’s guide to tutoring.

As a New Englander in a small southern liberal arts college, I was intrigued by the small but natural differences in the way my classmates spoke. It wasn’t just “y’all”—in addition to their inflections and accents, there were phrases that I’d never heard before, phrases that made total sense to my peers and none to me. Twenty years later, one of these phrases has stayed with me: when a grade came back in a class, instead of asking “What did you get?” my southern friends asked, “What did you make?”

As in, “What did you make on the Econ midterm?” I loved that. It’s easy to think of a grade as something a teacher “gives” to a student, instead of realizing that a grade, more than anything else, is a product of the student’s creation.

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After two decades as a classroom teacher, I can appreciate even more the symbolism of this phrase, and I make a point to tell my students this quick anecdote at the start of every school year. I think of this distinction often when parents ask me about arranging a tutor for their children. Both as a tutor myself (and as a classroom teacher whose students occasionally need additional help outside the classroom), I’ve come to realize that the best tutoring experiences occur when the student and parent understand that tutoring is not a Band-Aid. Instead, it’s an opportunity for a student to make themselves better, to change both in habit and philosophy. Tutoring is, to riff on the phrase, whatever the student is willing to make of it.

To clarify, there are a lot of kinds of tutors—tutors for academic remediation are the first that come to mind, but there are also tutors who work with students in lower-stakes situations. When a child is doing so well in school that their parents decide to supplement their education with additional support, tutoring becomes less stressful and more engaging—like a piano lesson for an accomplished musician or a training session for a skilled soccer player. There are tutors who help students in non-academic ways as well. (I was once hired by a parent to give “social-awareness” lessons to their child. We covered some basics like how to shake hands, how to look people in the eye, how to make polite conversation, how to write a thank-you note.) Like enrichment tutoring, the stakes are low in these situations. The flip side is a tutoring situation in which the stakes are very high and there is a specific, external goal in mind. Most often this occurs with tutors who specialize in preparing students for certain tests—the SAT, for example—and this kind of tutoring is more formulaic and has a clear end-goal.

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But tutoring when a student is having difficulty in school is the most common kind, and it can be fraught right from the beginning. One of the first questions I’m often asked by parents when their child is struggling in school is: “Do we need to hire a tutor?” Some parents ask this question with a lot of trepidation, as if the answer is a kind of loaded diagnosis. Others ask the question clearly hoping my answer is “yes,” because then at least they’ll have what looks like a way to fix a problem. But hiring a tutor to occupy a weekly hour of a student’s life doesn’t instantly solve an issue, and so the tutoring question is one I have to weigh carefully before I answer. Because tutoring works really well in some situations and not so well in others. Sure, a lot depends on the quality of the tutor—their knowledge and experience and expertise. But there are a number of other factors at play.

In a perfect world, parents don’t have to make this call on their own: their child’s school does the responsible thing: after observing the student for a few weeks and meeting with a team of professionals, the school administration recommends that the child receive some academic help outside of school. Maybe the school even has a team of tutors whom they recommend, seasoned educators who know what they’re doing. And maybe, after a handful of sessions over the course of a few weeks, whatever academic issue the child was having disappears. This is an ideal scenario, but unfortunately, it’s not how it often plays out. In fact, it’s a bit of a fantasy.

Instead, the decision to hire a tutor usually comes in response to pain. Parents see their child struggling at home and it hurts. There is nightly pushback and fighting and exasperation: tears at the kitchen table because they don’t understand how to do their homework, a crumpled test at the bottom of their bookbag. Maybe the child becomes secretive about their performance in school; when their peers talk about their marks on the Spanish quiz or their study plan for the upcoming Math exam, the child clams up. Parents turn to tutoring as a kind of last resort.

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I would hope it doesn’t get to that. Actually, I would hope that every parent would consider hiring a tutor for their child, even if they don’t think they “need to.” Too often, parents rely on non-academic extracurriculars to round out their child’s schedule. Instead of signing a child up for that third sport, why not have them work with an academic tutor who could take them beyond wherever they’re going in the classroom?

A tutor should commit to working with a child regularly, but I would avoid meeting more often than once a week. I have found that 45-minute sessions are best for middle-school and high-school-aged students; anything longer can be a drag. I’m happy to travel to students’ homes to work with them, but I do ask that there is a dedicated and semi-private workspace is made available. Parents certainly want to avoid having their child work with a tutor in the middle of the house, which, depending on the family, can seem like Grand Central Station. Though parents like to “listen in” during a tutoring session, I find that students are less willing to engage if they know that Mom or Dad is listening from the hallway.

There have been a few times when I’ve worked privately with groups of students, particularly when we’ve read the same novel and the session operates as a kind of book club. This can work if the children all know each other and are comfortable with speaking up in front of their peers. Certainly, students benefit from attending another academic experience that mimics a small-sized class. However, though this kind of tutoring can seem beneficial and less intense, I don’t see the individual growth in the participants that’s often found in one-on-one tutoring.

It helps to see tutoring as a temporary experience for a finite amount of time. Both for the tutor and the student, understanding that their work together is not going to last forever can add urgency and meaning to their sessions. If I know I’m only going to meet with a student six times, I can set what I want to accomplish in that time period, and the family has the opportunity to reassess after we’re done. I can focus on the skills that I’m trying to impart, and our sessions are more likely to stay focused on an end goal. One thing I refuse to do as a tutor is to become the homework police. If students are not intrinsically motivated to complete their work, their parents are the parties most effective in creating change—having a stranger’s encouragement doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. This can be difficult for parents who believe that hiring a tutor “takes it off [their] plate.” Above all else, tutors should never complete a student’s work for them. There’s a clear line between supporting a student and covering for them, and in my experience, parents don’t seem to mind crossing it. I even had a parent ask me to log in to their child’s college application portal and complete all the submissions for them, simply because their child refused to do it herself. Tutors should run away from situations like these, as I did.

Sometimes when I’m calculating grades at the end of a marking period, I notice that despite the two-dozen-or-so assessments over the course of a few months, a student will have almost the exact same average as they did in the previous marking period. The answer, of course, is that the student is the same person they were in the fall, and this is not always a bad thing. It’s hard to change. Expecting quick miracles, especially when children are involved, can be a waste of time. Instead, I’ve learned to look for small, incremental improvements; a student whose average goes from 84% to 88%. These are the kinds of changes that parents can expect from good tutors, given the correct circumstances. EDGE