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FCAT prizes give students wrong message

Published Sep. 2, 2005

Re: All this can be yours, if FCAT score is right.

The article states that elementary schools can give out gel pens and certificates to create student motivation. This is exactly the problem. Devices like picking a prize from the treasure box for doing required work is where the greed starts. By the time these students enter high school, they need larger incentives.

Our job as educators is to give the students intrinsic motivation. We need to make education real to the students and make them feel it is important. We need to make the connections for the students between real life and what they learn at school.

Teachers need to break out of the textbook and make their message appealing to students. Students need to be challenged with interesting work. If their whole education is spent between the classroom walls, with no exploration, they will need incentives.

Does anybody give you a prize for showing up at work? Neither should the school system. That is an expectation.

Paul (Danny) Bigham, St. Petersburg

FCAT result not a true picture

Re: All this can be yours, if FCAT score is right, March 11.

If this is the message we are teaching our children, we have gotten it all wrong.

We should be telling them that education is the best gift of all, that by doing well and learning they will be able to have the good life.

The FCAT does not show a child's home life, the time a teacher spends trying to help a child who has a serious problem, the principal who sits down to console a child or anything that goes on in everyday life. All it shows is how a child is doing on one day, not whether he has a fever, is hungry or upset about something in his life.

Please stop putting so much emphasis on the FCAT and put more on total education. This is what the government should be funding, not decreasing education funds.

Virginia Tucci, Dunedin

Three cheers for good scores

Re: All this can be yours, if FCAT score is right.

Glad to see that academic awards raise students' interest in preparing for testing. After all, much money and many incentives are given to sports teams and athletic events. Pep rallies, drills and practices help school athletic performance. When do football players start preparing for their season?

Academic performance has been pretty sad in our beautiful state. Let's cheer for the scholars for a change with rallies, drills, practices and awards. I taught remedial reading for many years in New York state, and when my students performed well on the New York State Reading Test, you can bet we had a special luncheon or party.

Fern Gordon, Palm Harbor

Back off school choice plan

I was troubled by something I heard at the March 12 Pinellas School Board meeting. I wonder if anybody else heard that the district choice plan is more important than monitoring and reporting student achievement data for the population of kids who do not take the FCAT, a significant number of whom are African-American? Did anybody else hear the excuse offered that the district Testing and Research and MIS departments are too busy working on choice implementation to get student achievement data for community members who had requested it weeks ago? What happened to including parents, teachers and support professionals in the decisionmaking process? After the kids, they are the ones most affected by these decisions. The district has now backed away from the Exceptional Student Education program moves. I can't help but believe that if the district had remained focused on highest student achievement and creating a safe learning environment, none of this would have happened in the first place. Choice seems to have taken on a life of its own and become the end rather than a possible means to an end.

I think it is time again to ask why the district is implementing this choice model _ a model that nobody liked to begin with. To paraphrase one of the more than 100 speakers who, more than a year ago, told the School Board what they thought of this choice plan: The School Board has managed to unite the community with this issue. Parents don't like it; teachers and support staff don't like it; black people and white people don't like it; people in north county, mid county and south county don't like it; even the group you put together to monitor it (DMAC) doesn't like it.

Perhaps it is time to slow down this train wreck and consider delaying or phasing in the implementation of a choice system. Think of the money and resources that would free up at a time when both are in very short supply.

Rob McMahon, president, Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, Largo

Don't blame the parents

Re: Job description for parenting, letter, March 14.

The letter writer states that if parents would just do the minimum to prepare their children, then the teachers could do their job. I hope that not all teachers are so quick to blame the parents. We make sure our child is well-fed, gets to school on time, does her homework and gets to bed at a reasonable time. We also send her for private tutoring, work with her at home and have her attend summer programs. This child reads at a third-grade level, and she is getting ready to be promoted to middle school. It is extremely frustrating as a parent to have a teacher make such a broad statement indicting our parenting skills. If the letter writer thinks she could do a better job, I would be happy to accept her assistance.

I am glad to report that I have not run into such an attitude among our child's teachers. We have found that the teachers who work with struggling students are sympathetic to our plight. These teachers are just as frustrated as we are with the limitations of state and county guidelines and budgets that prevent access to programs that might help these students.

Carole Davis, Clearwater

A nationwide problem

Re: Forgive me father, but it is you who sinned, by Mary Jo Melone, March 12.

While there is no doubt that the Catholic Church can and must respond better to accusations of sexual abuse by priests, I suggest that we as a society need to focus on the larger problem of sexual abuse generally. This is not a "Catholic" problem. This is a nationwide scandal of horrific proportions, of which the revelations in the Catholic Church are only a symptom.

Parents need to talk to their children about how to handle sexual advances. Parents need to tell their children that any time someone says "Don't tell your parents," that person is doing or suggesting something wrong, and the child needs to come to the parent about it. Parents need to be aware of the signs of sexual abuse. And parents need to believe their children when the child comes to them . . . even if the accusation is against a family member.

Yes, the Catholic hierarchy has been inadequate in its duties to protect children from sexual predators. But so has our society as a whole. All too often, parents are too reluctant to talk about sexual issues with their children, so children are uncomfortable telling their parents if an advance occurs.

Yes, the Catholic hierarchy needs to respond better. But so do parents.

Cris Brown, Wesley Chapel

Education on sexual violence needed

Re: Mentally disabled sex cases perplexing, March 4.

Recent trials concerning the sexual assault of people with developmental delays highlight the need for all of us to educate ourselves about the dynamics of sexual violence. In contrast to the stereotype, many sex offenders do not cause a high degree of physical injury; rather they leave behind extensive emotional damage.

In a crime in which 80 percent of perpetrators know their victim, intellectual and emotional manipulation are the first steps used in the grooming of their victims. Perpetrators apply just enough threat or coercion to accomplish their goal and to exert power and control over another human being, using sex as the vehicle. Furthermore, because sex offenders tend to reoffend, over time they are able to refine their skills to manipulate their victims and the system.

As the St. Petersburg Times points out, people with developmental delays are particularly vulnerable to this manipulation. For adult persons with developmental disabilities, the risk of being physically or sexually assaulted is four to 10 times higher than for other adults. As many as 70 percent of women with developmental delays are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

We are all vulnerable to the manipulation and deception of sexual predators. Sexual violence demands a communitywide response. All segments of our community need education so that when we, as community members, are called upon for jury duty, or to support a neighbor, a friend or a loved one who has been sexually assaulted, we can support the survivor and hold the perpetrator accountable. This will contribute to keeping all of us safe _ individuals, families and our community.

Lisa Signorelli, MSW, Rape Crisis program supervisor, and M.J. Sutcliffe, LMFT, director, SAFE Center, Clearwater

DARE makes a difference

Re: Daring to believe, March 11.

I can tell you from experience that the DARE program does work.

I am the mother of two girls, ages 11 and 12. Both of my girls went through the DARE program at their elementary school. The officer that they worked with was such an idol for my girls. They were both so proud when they graduated from the program. Now, when they do get approached by their peers to smoke, they can confidently and politely tell the person no.

As parents, we have to realize there is no "end all" for keeping our children away from drugs. It requires the continuous efforts of the parents, teachers, resource officers and the DARE program combined to help our children's future.

Please keep the DARE program active. It does make a difference.

Michelle Blankenship, Largo

A defeat for common sense

Re: Tougher fuel bill defeated in Senate, March 14.

It's extremely disappointing that the U.S. Senate voted to reject increases in fuel efficiency standards. Although our Florida Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson supported the increase, millions of dollars in campaign contributions by the auto industry led 62 senators to block what could have been the single biggest oil-saving measure adopted by Congress.

And don't just take my word for it _ the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council both agree that raising fuel efficiency standards for cars and SUVs can be done safely and effectively. The first auto fuel efficiency standards, enacted in 1975, saved Americans $92-billion and reduced oil use by 60-billion gallons in 2000 alone.

Unfortunately, science and common sense were missing from the Senate debate. Instead, a majority of senators decided to side with the special interests at the expense of our health, environment and energy security. Graham and Nelson should be applauded for not following down that path.

Dave Blatt, St. Petersburg

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