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Beating Budget Blues

By: Anju Gattani Email By: Anju Gattani
September 2010
Beating Budget Blues A sluggish economy, dipping mortgages, dropping property values and a forest of foreclosures have affected education boards across the state of Georgia, forcing many to tighten their belts and buckle up for another year. Slashed funding because of state-wide austerity cuts have also encouraged administrators to zip their purses and juggle with yet another set of depressing numbers in efforts to close multi-million-dollar gaps and balance budget deficits.

Despite lowering all employees’ salaries, Superintendent Fred Sanderson, Cobb County Board of Education, described the current budget cycle (on the Cobb County School District’s website) as the “worst I’ve seen in my 35 years as an educator.” Not only did the board cut teaching positions and reduce the school year by five days, amongst many other cuts, but waived all restrictions on class size to help schools contend with the economic crisis. In addition, Fulton County reorganized school staffing and eliminated the band and orchestra programs in elementary schools.

The pain of empty pockets is being felt by decision makers and bearers as both come to terms with a no-win situation. Perhaps that explains why angry parents hired a consultant to draw up an alternative budget in an attempt to prove to Fulton County board members that band and orchestra can still be taught along with the three R’s (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic).

Was it helpful? Perhaps not, considering the Fulton County Board still adopted their proposed budget on June 8, with their plan to save $ 4million by eliminating the two programs. Helpless is probably what a lot of parents continue to feel while questioning the level of education their children will now end up with.

For those who want their kids to continue with band and orchestra the options are private classes or after-school programs, funded by your own pocket, in this dismal economy. One angry parent expressed his concern at the loss of these music programs to 11Alive News, observing that the cut would deprive the children not just of music but affect their education across the board and the way they learn.   

For some Indian parents, grades are the sole determinant of their children’s academic achievements for the year. The loss of band and orchestra programs might not have affected them, but music clearly matters to many others like Shukti Basu, a Montessori teacher and mother to 10-year-old Saurav, a budding violinist who attends a Fulton County school. Basu describes the integration of music in the curriculum as “a very important part of a well-rounded education” and a much needed break in the monotonous school routine. “Music sharpens the mind. It helps concentration, focus and the learning of new skills.” According to Saurav, who also takes private piano lessons, learning the violin simultaneously encouraged his piano-playing abilities.      

With larger classroom sizes, fewer teachers, restructured education programs and a whole host of changes and losses how can we, as parents, help our kids tide over these tough measures?

Susan Cox, an elementary school teacher, explains that in these hard economic times, homework, irrespective of class sizes or loss of teachers, is an educational tool parents can still use to help promote their children’s learning. She describes homework as a form of learning that is still within the parents’ sphere. “Homework gives students a chance to apply what they learn at school, to see how much they’ve understood and to reinforce the day’s learning.” Homework encourages students to complete assignments at their own pace without the pressure of peer competition, she observes.

“As parents you can help by understanding your child’s learning style and adopting a suitable learning environment at home.” Some practices go a long way in helping your kids become more academically independent and confident of their abilities despite today’s pressures. We’re all familiar with a separate study corner in the house where distractions are at a minimum so that kids can work undisturbed and focus on the assigned task until it’s done.

But how can you ascertain your kids are sitting on those seats if you’re not there to keep an eye on them? “Sit down with your child and work out a timetable he can follow at home,” says Cox. “This is important especially if you’re working and won’t return home until dinnertime.” According to her, a timetable the two of you can agree on is a big motivating factor and this nurtures time management skills.   

Dr. Sylvia Rimm, author of the book Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades, says short regular breaks of about five minutes taken between 30-45 minutes of study give a child’s concentration a much needed break. She adds that an effective way of empowering kids with their own learning begins with you, the parent, at home.

She discourages hovering over them like a satellite and says doing so only decreases their ability to focus. Dr. Rimm also suggests resisting the temptation to correct your kid’s homework unless you are ready to spend the next half an hour explaining why he/she got it wrong to begin with.

“Giving a student the correct answer without an explanation is a bad idea,” says Cox, pointing out that it hampers the child’s self-motivation. “It simply teaches him that mum or dad is always around with the answers.” She says parents should take the upper hand in behaving more like a guide and suggests “giving kids a general idea of related topics, providing information where necessary and letting them discover answers for themselves.”

Avoid dropping in their study corner to check if their homework is done, suggests Cox. Instead, leave the responsibility on your child’s shoulders to come and show you the completed work.

Basu has still not made up her mind whether to send Saurav for after-school or private violin lessons; either way she now has to pay. “It all depends on how important you consider music is in your life,” she says. For the Basus music clearly brings harmony, and Shukti is confident that despite the upsetting decision made by the Fulton County Board she will find a solution for Saurav in time.         

“Kids need your encouragement,” says Cox. “They need to know their parents believe in them and recognize their efforts. “However,” she adds, “they need to attempt challenges and do it for themselves.”

[Anju Gattani is a qualified London Montessori teacher, freelance journalist and web consultant. She is also the author of Winds of Fire, a women’s fiction series titled that is currently being marketed.]

Learning Styles

We all have different learning styles. Understanding your child’s style will help you to help him study better.

Auditory learners speak their thoughts. To completely understand a lesson, they have to read it out loud.

Visual learners learn through pictures. They lose concentration quickly. You can help by teaching them to focus their imagination while listening.

Kinesthetic learners are restless. Try to design a study routine that allows for activity to release pent-up energy.

Global learners only grasp the overall situation, assuming the details will fall in place later. A good way to pin down a child’s attention is to keep reminding him of the little details he may have missed out.

Analytical learners break down information into digestible smaller facts, but can only consider the bigger picture once all the small details are understood. Help him use his imagination to think about the big picture, before the details come in.

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