Education

As Teachers Know, School Is A Home Away From Home

My kids are off to college.  It is a bittersweet moment.  I am – of course – incredibly proud of them.  I’m excited for all of the experiences and opportunities that lay before them; but I am also sad, and a little worried, because they will be on their own and so far away from home.

I won’t suffer from empty nest syndrome, however.  I still have more kids to help get into college, about 150 of them this year.  I’m not referring to biological children, but to my school kids.  And, for about 180 days that begin on Monday, school will be their second home, where they’ll learn, work, laugh, cry, write, calculate, interpret and grow up.

And teachers are an integral part of all that.

the girlsTeachers returned to school last week, to unpack, rearrange, set up and plan for the first day of school.  I walked in to school this morning, fueled with a double dose of caffeine, to send and answer emails and begin all the heavy lifting.  They call these days work days for a reason.  There is a whole lot of work to do. There are desks to move, boxes to carry, activities to be planned.

And, as we sit down to plan lessons – juggling texts, secondary sources, standards and activities—it could all become a little daunting.  Will I reach them?  Will they get this?  Is this rigorous enough? Is it too rigorous? Does this lesson infuse the common core standards? In the midst of all the work there is to do, it is easy to get a little overwhelmed, maybe even wallow a little in self-doubt.

Just as I was in the midst of all that, four of my girls sauntered in.  Each of them is heading to college this week.  Each has spent some time at their respective schools, from one year to three, depending on the visitor – Harvard, Columbia, University of Florida, Florida State University and University of Central Florida—to get acclimated.  And each came back home, to their school home, to surprise me and to talk hurriedly and excitedly about their summer.

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The MLEC High School class of 2013 is all grown up. Now globe-trotting juniors and seniors preparing for their careers.

They wanted to tell me how well-prepared they felt.  They wanted to thank me.  These are the moments that teachers live for.  They are the reason that we trudge to and from trainings and professional developments, why we learn and adapt for changing standards, tests and curricula.  It is not for higher teacher merit pay or for school grades – although both are nice – but for moments like these, when Aileen tells me, “I was one of the few freshmen in the class and I got an A,” or when Crystal says that she used her notes on Othello to tutor her friends and classmates, for the moment when Gaby said, “at first I was intimidated by their GPAs and SAT scores,” but then she realized – they all realized—how much they learned in high school.  They realized that they were prepared for college, and – best of all—they came home to tell me all about it.

I am preparing for my eleventh first day of school.  As kids can attest, it is both exciting and nerve-racking.  What will Monday bring?  The only thing that I know for sure, are that at each desk will sit a student who – whether she knows it or not—is building her Mugfuture.  My job is to help her shape it, to make sure that she, and all of her classmates have all of the tools that they need.

Over the years, I’ve lectured and graded, proofread hundreds of college application essays, helped students complete their FAFSAs, written letters of recommendation and worn the dozens of hats that teachers do each day.  I’ve been there to console them after rejections and losses, and to encourage them to push through.  I’ve been there to celebrate acceptances, triumphs and awards and to shake their hand on graduation day.

And another group of young women are off: leaving my classroom, and beginning the next chapter of their lives.

And another group of young women are off: leaving my classroom, and beginning the next chapter of their lives.

But, most rewarding of all is hearing from them.  Opening my inbox to find an email from a student who graduated in 2008 with exciting career news; running into a former student and finding them happy, healthy and successful; and, of course, welcoming a former student home for a visit as they talk excitedly about their lives.  

  Yes, most rewarding of all knows that we reached them.  They learned.  They navigated through the seas of adolescence, the drama of high school relationships, the trials and tribulations of pretests, post-tests, lectures, essays and assignments and that – through the cacophony of all that—they heard us, they listened, they learned, and they appreciate it.

Teachers collect moments: thank you cards, notes, the small things that remind us why we work so hard.

Teachers collect moments: thank you cards, notes, the small things that remind us why we work so hard.

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The College Essay: A Personal Story on the Common App

Common App

As more and more students apply to college, schools are looking to application essays to really know applicants.

School buses just started rolling out in Miami-Dade County, announcing sunrise and the beginning of a brand new school year, but already high school seniors are focused on college.  With early admission deadlines looming, students are beginning a new rite of passage: conquering the college application and, with it, the dreaded college application essay.

As competition for acceptance to top schools increases, students began applying to more and more schools.  So many now turn to the Common Application, a not-for-profit organization, developed in 1975 to help cut down on the number of separate applications and essays a student applying to numerous colleges and universities would have to complete.  This one application is accepted at nearly 500 colleges and universities across the country.

So when something changes on the application, it’s big news; it affects thousands of students, all hoping and competing for a seat at their dream school, but they may also indicate a changing tide, on college campuses and perhaps in society.

Last year’s new platform was plagued with glitches. Students had a difficult time paying fees and uploading documents. Schools also had trouble uploading transcripts.

As more and more students apply to college, the Common App’s biggest changes are in customer service. The site now has:

  • A comprehensive FAQ page and help center
  • An ask a question tab where students and parents can contact and leave a message for a Common App Support Team member
  • And live support for recommenders

The essay

The essay prompts, which underwent some big changes last year, are the same this year. Despite the rapid increase in abbreviations, emoticons and whole stories told in 140 characters or less, last year’s Common Application increased its word limit from 500 words to 650. That remains the same. But, many subscriber colleges and universities, such as Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, are also requiring applicants to answer “Supplemental” questions.

In other words, colleges want to know more about their applicants.  And not more details, but rather a narrative with depth, insight, profundity.

And therein lays the conflict.  Students know what is at stake.  They need to be memorable, but honest; smart, but not pretentious; funny, but not silly.  And the indecision and insecurity can lead to bad essays.  Too often, applicants make the mistake of trying to write about every accomplishment – every medal, trophy and extra credit point they ever earned – or settle for a cliché topic, or avoid expressing an opinion or taking a stand.

Admissions officers read essays for up to twelve hours a day. They are looking, and probably wishing for, essays that are different, essays that stay with them.  So really, the best advice for someone sitting at a blank screen, suffering paralyzing self-doubt and writer’s block, is to relax and tell a story.

A personal story

Admission officers want to know the applicant.  They want to know who students are, how they think, and what they can bring to their school.  So students must distinguish themselves in their own voice. What do they want the person reviewing the application to know about them?  What makes you, you?  How are you different than the applicant before you? And the one before him?

The topics are personal, probing, direct.  Among the questions that the Common Application asks students to write, are how experiencing failure shaped them, about a moment that symbolized the beginning of adulthood, or a time that they challenged a belief or idea.

In other words, colleges and universities want to hear about a pivotal moment; they want to read about applicants’ personal, psychological and/or moral growth.  They want to know that the applicants themselves know that they are different.  Because in paradoxical era of oversharing – photos, intimate details, our whereabouts, etc. – while under-communicating, we actually know less about whom we are and what we think.  We spend a lot of time documenting our experiences and very little time considering how they shape us.  Perhaps the Common Application will help change that, if only for college application season.

 

 

 

Millennials: Super Students, Super Humans

Gabriella Nuňez graduated near the top of her high school class.  Her resume rivals that of many college graduates.  She juggled rigorous courses with part-time work, myriad extracurricular activities and a thousand hours of community service.  She held various leadership positions ranging from class president to design editor of her newspaper and she began her college career this summer with over 24 college credits under her belt.

And, she is not alone.  The 21st century teenager is increasingly dynamic, and they have to be.  Although the Millennial Generation, usually defined as people born between 1981 and 2000, is often criticized for their narcissism and sense of entitlement, new research shows that this generation is actually much more complex than what they’re given credit for.

class of 2013

Millennial face an insecure and increasingly competitive job market; but, they are amazingly optimistic

Yes, today’s young people do seem to “grow up” later, as they put off traditional rites of passage such as marriage, family and home-ownership.  And they also have shorter attention spans.  Both are, at least partially, due to technology and the Great Recession.

Today’s teens and young adults are more confident and connected than ever before.  And they have reason to be.  Whereas teens growing up in the late 60s believed that anything was possible after witnessing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, this generation very much believes that they can know all there is to know.  This is a generation that does not know a world without computers.  Moreover, they don’t remember a time before Google and graphing calculators.  So, are they spoiled?  Perhaps.  Are they a little self-centered?  Probably.  But, in their world, the President of the United States is only a Tweet away.

And the Great Recession taught them to have less faith in the “grown-ups” and traditional measures of adulthood. They watched their parents endure the real estate melt-down and double-digit unemployment. The Federal Reserve reports that between 2007 and 2010, the median net worth of American families plunged 39 percent.

And the news gets worse.  Although this generation is generally more educated than ever before, with more Americans holding college degrees than ever, Millennials are disproportionately unemployed or underemployed.  At the height of Great Recession, the unemployment rate among 15 to 24 year-olds was over 20 percent.

And although those numbers have improved, a 2009 Yale University study indicates that students who graduate during a recession earn 10 percent less, even after a decade of work.

According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, inflation-adjusted wages for young high school graduates declined by 11.1 percent between 2000 and 2011, and the real wages of young college graduates declined by 5.4 percent.

But the news does not seem to discourage them.  In fact, it seems to motivate some students to work even harder.

“When I got to high school, taking rigorous classes meant sacrificing a social life and sleep for study time to fulfill my various duties and responsibilities,” said Lisabet Esperon, who graduated this June and will begin school at the University of Florida as a sophomore, pursuing a degree in accounting.

Sacrifice is not usually the first word that people associate with the Millennial Generation; however, they are saving more and spending less.  Millenials are driving less and, increasingly, living within their means, carrying less credit card debt than their parents did.

Despite facing grim employment prospects, mounting tuition costs and rising student loan interest rates, today’s young people remain optimistic.  According to a Pew Research Study, 41 percent of them are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, compared to only 26 percent of those 30 and older who feel the same.

And they’d have to be optimistic as they graduate high school to find that being top of your class does not guarantee admission to their school of choice at a time when college applications are at an all-time high.  Then they graduate from college to enter an incredibly competitive work force.

So, it’s not that Millennial are lazy.  They are used to the competition, the stress and the hard work.  They just expect to see results for it.  And they don’t necessarily measure success in dollars.

Nuňez was often incredibly stressed in high school.  “There were tears and hair pulling and late nights with piles of homework” she said.  But she doesn’t expect a huge paycheck at the end.  “I want a meaningful career.  I want to give back.  I want to feel fulfilled.  Really, I just want to be happy.”

Millenials then, are a paradox.  They want more: more free time, more travel, more experiences; they want more out of life than a house with white picket fence and a two-car garage.  And, at least for now, they are willing to trade immediate financial success, getting by with less money, to achieve more happiness. How idealistic.

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Originally published on WLRN in July 2013

YOLO is So Last Year, ‘selfie’ is in the dictionary

post-it of new words

Language is not static. It is alive, always evolving. So, srsly, don’t worry!

For a few years now, teachers and English purists have bemoaned the slow, painful death of language.  It was bad enough, when they had only rock music and television to fight.  Now, they face an even greater nemesis: Smartphones.  In fact, a recent article, a professor tells The Telegraph that Twitter is causing students’ writing skills to “go down the plug hole.”

Many a high school teacher can point to at least a handful of instances where LOL or j/k or OMG have popped up in student essays.

And, to further prove that there is — in fact — a dark, nefarious force infiltrating our minds and our vocabulary, enemies of “text talk” point to the Oxford Dictionaries Online’s (not the OED) newest selection of words which include enemies of eloquent language like: twerk, selfie and badassery or condensed forms of words and phrases like srsly and FOMO.

To the doomsayers I say, calm down.  Remember that the ODO is not the same as the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford’s online reference is more adaptable, a little faster and a little looser with the words that they include. After all, their mandate is to focus on current English and modern meanings.  And, I’d add that many of the new words are necessary to address new and growing technology.

Are the words silly?  Yes.  Have they infiltrated teens’ lexicon?  Certainly.  But, is this new?  Have teenagers suddenly discovered slang or colloquial speech?  The answer is certainly not.  One need not think too far back to find, now obscure, words that we may be embarrassed to have uttered.  Remember cowabanga? Or tubular?  Or psych?

Yes, journalists and “totally bogus” grownups hated those words too. Hashtags, text messages and social media are here now.  Soon enough, they too will be old news.

So academics take heart. Language is dynamic.  It is alive and changing, evolving, adapting.  Most of these new “words,” if we must call them that, will soon fade into obscurity.

Hashtag in the Classroom: Can Social Media Improve Education?

kids and social media

Seventy-eight percent of teens have a cell phone. Let’s meet kids where they are and use technology to create learning opportunities.

Thirty years ago parents had to tell their kids to turn of the television and go to sleep.  Today, it’s their cellphone.  Teenagers are more socially activethan ever before, at least virtually.

A Pew Institute Research Study on Teens, Social Media, and Privacy indicates that 95% of teenagers use the internet and eight in ten of them use some kind of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.

It isn’t just teenagers who are avid users.  Social media is shaping society.  More and more sites like Facebook and Twitter are influencing not only how we talk, but what we talk about.  Television programming, legislative bills, fashion, protests and parties are planned, discussed and critiqued online.

So, what is next?  Education, of course.

This is a scary thought for teachers, administrators and educators, and with good reason.  For decades experts have argued the effectiveness of technology on student learning.  And the results were not always positive.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, there may even be a correlation between the rise in ADHD and the increasing prevalence of mobile devices since 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half of them own smartphones.

A May study from The National Bureau of Economic Research found that providing a computer to sixth through tenth grade students who did not have one at home had “no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions” at the end of a school year.  While a similar project conducted by the Texas Center for Educational Research found, after a technology immersion program that “there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with their schoolwork.”

And just ask any high school English teacher how internet acronyms—OMG, LOL, smh, ty – have seeped not only into teen vernacular, but also into their writing.  Clearly, incorporating social media in the classroom may seem fruitless and counterproductive to many veteran educators.

However, when used carefully, cellphones, tablets and social media can be a very powerful tool.  Kids have more access to information than ever before.  They no longer have to get up and pick up a dictionary to search for a word’s definition; they don’t need to buy the most recent edition of an atlas to find China’s gross domestic product.  All of that information is available to them on their most prized possession, their smart phone.

The challenge is to help them see the power that they have at their fingertips.  Teachers and parents have to help them see that smartphones are not just for texting and updating Facebook profiles and that Twitter is useful for more than posting jokes and song lyrics.

Anyone who doubts the potential world-changing power of social media just has to turn on the evening news.  Remember the Arab Spring?  Most accounts of the political upheaval in Egypt leaked through Twitter and YouTube.  The winner of our most recent presidential debates were partially measured by Twitter activity.  Diane Sawyer recently used the term “selfie” on ABC World News and social media had a huge influence on the recent Zimmerman trial.

Ninety-five percent of teens use the Internet. 8 in 10 regularly use social media. Can educators harness that energy?

Ninety-five percent of teens use the Internet. 8 in 10 regularly use social media. Can educators harness that energy?

In a discussion about how networks are increasingly using social media not only to promote shows, but to drive content, Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group said that “whether it’s Twitter or Facebook, those technologies, those platforms have given them even more say. Because they have come into the conversation in a much more powerful way, it’s even more important we pay attention to it.”

The same applies to education.  The Florida legislature has required that schools deliver half of classroom instruction digitally by the fall of 2015. Already the state requires high school students to take one online course in order to graduate, and many are taking several as schools struggle to offer electives such as foreign language that students need to get accepted to college. And students already take computerized versions the FCAT and end of course exams, not pencil and paper tests.

So technology is definitely here to stay.  And teachers have the opportunity to develop how it is used.  Facebook has over 500 million users, Twitter over 200 million.  Both communities get larger every minute. And students are engrossed in them.

A small study of students at Lockhaven University in Pennsylvania tested whether Twitter could be used effectively in learning.  At the end of the semester, students enrolled in classes where they were assigned to continue class discussions and complete assignments using Twitter were more engaged in their classwork than students who did not and earned a higher grade point average.

Technology alone cannot improve learning and social media can be distracting and even dangerous.  But, today’s teenagers are more tech-savvy than any other generation.  One of the challenges facing educators is learning how we can harness the power of social media in the classroom to keep students engaged and excited about learning so that they begin to see the awesome power of having so much knowledge at their fingertips.

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Originally published in July, 2013 on WLRN: http://bit.ly/1zDXQHk

 

 

Will Tying Teacher Raises To Test Results Improve Education in Florida?

merit pay

Teachers’ salaries will now be based, in part, on their students’ performance on state tests.

When my husband was studying for the CPA exams, he prepared for months.  He memorized laws and rules and exceptions to those rules.  He used flashcards, watched lectures and took simulated exams.  He answered thousands of sample test questions.

Preparing for exams is as much about tactic as it is about knowledge.  To conquer an exam, people learn to beat the test.  They learn strategies.  They take courses designed specifically to prepare them for these exams or they study on their own, for the tests.

For my husband, the hours of studying paid off.  He passed all four parts on his first attempt.  But, were these tests measuring what he learned in school?  Did it measure the knowledge that he gained during his undergraduate and graduate college career?  Are any of these professional exams (The Florida Bar Exam, Professional Engineering Exams, MCAT, LSAT, GRE, etc.) used to measure the effectiveness of a university or a professor?

testing

Data-based analysis of teacher performance is here to stay. Florida won a $700 million federal Race To The Top grant to design a statewide evaluation system that includes student test results in teachers’ evaluations.

No.  However, we do use tests to determine the quality of our schools and, as of July 1st, also our teachers’ performance.  Senate Bill 1664 requires that at least 50 percent of a classroom teacher’s performance evaluation, and pay, be based on the growth or achievement of the students.

And I understand why.  It is important to gage what students know.  We need to measure what they have learned throughout the school year.  And teachers also need an objective way to measure whether a particular method or lesson is effective.  It is equally important for schools and school districts to have a quantitative way to measure their teachers’ performance.

There are plenty of concerns about the fairness of teacher merit pay and whether test scores alone truly reflect a teacher’s effectiveness.  However, it is also fair to say that the only way to measure if a student has learned something, is to test him.  This is why there has always been a test.  And, more often than not, our test results determine a large portion of our future.  Passing a midterm and final in college was essential to passing a course.  Earning the right SAT score was crucial to get into college.  Passing those professional exams is the only way for doctors, lawyers, engineers and CPAs to obtain licensure.

However, since the introduction of No Child Left Behind we have entered an era of constant testing.  We’ve evolved from the High School Competency Test (HSCT) to the FCAT to the FCAT 2.0 to the End of Course Exams, the PERT and soon the PARCC, and so many other letters and abbreviations that I’ve left off of this list.

There are baseline exams, Fall Exams, Winter Exams, Interim Assessments, and on and on and on.  If your child attends a public high school in Miami-Dade County, he or she was probably testing from April through the end of the school year, especially if they were also enrolled in Advanced Placement courses.

Kids today are testing all the time.  And teachers are forced to adapt to that environment.  As much as teachers resist “teaching to the test,” I wonder how long they can continue to.  If a school’s success and a teacher’s efficacy is measured and determined by how her students perform on those tests, how long before the emphasis becomes beating that test?

The argument is not far-fetched.  For all of the school reforms that public education has undergone over the last ten years, for all the data and statistical analysis, high school students are not any better today than they were forty years ago.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics review, 17-year-olds’ average math and reading scores have not improved.  The tests have not changed at all in 40 years.  But, unlike the tests used to determine school grades and teacher effectiveness, “Nobody teaches to the NAEP exam,” said Kati Haycock president of the Education Trust, “which is why it’s such a useful measure to what our kids can actually do.”

And while our students are, according to the FCAT, constantly improving, the average SAT score for the high school class of 2012 dropped, again.  The reading and writing scores were the lowest since the company began releasing the data in 1972, which is part of what fuels the movement towards the common core and college readiness.  But those movements also include more tests.

Students deserve the best possible opportunities.  They need to be prepared to face the world, to enter college and/or the work force.  They deserve good schools and effective teachers to help them get there.  That requires local school districts and legislatures to figure out ways to ensure that tax dollars are doing just that.  That all requires tests.

I just hope that as we develop these tests and exams and figure out a way to use statistical analysis to interpret all of that data, I hope that we do not lose sight of the importance of a well-rounded education.  I hope that we don’t sacrifice creativity and class discussion and critical thinking.

When I was in high school, there was one test: the HSCT.  There were hundreds of electives.  I took ceramics and creative writing and photography.  I learned about Sigmund Freud and how he influenced Salvador Dali’s art as well as Ernest Hemingway’s writing style.  I learned about existentialism and Kant’s moral imperatives and how those ideas manifested themselves in literature, government and architecture. The high school that I attended no longer offers those courses.  And although I do my best to incorporate art and news and history and philosophy in my daily lessons, I’m not sure how many other teachers do.  And I don’t know how many other teachers will.  Those things are not on the test.

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Originally posted on WLRN in July, 2013: http://bit.ly/1novSWT

 

 

Cyberbullying Law Gives Educators Power To Intervene Outside Of School

Gabrielle Molina was a seventh grader in Queens, New York.  Her friends and parents say that she was smart.  She was ambitious and loved science. Her father said that she wanted to join the U.S. Air Force and then study law.

cyberbullying chartOn May 23rd her 15 year-old sister forced open their bedroom door and found her lifeless.  Gaby hanged herself.  She was 12.  In her suicide note she apologized to her family and said that she was bullied.

Her classmates harassed her, calling her a slut, and teased her about looks. They even posted a video on the internet showing the 5-foot tall girl getting beaten.

Cases like these have become all too common and have prompted legislative action.  Governor Rick Scott signed HB 609 into law, expanding Florida’s current anti-bullying law to include “cyberbullying.”

The new law, which went into effect on July 1st, gives schools more power to intervene in cases of cyberbullying which take place outside of school.  In the past, administrators’ ability to act was limited. They could only intervene if the bullying occurred on school property, or in the course of a school-sponsored program, or on a school bus.

Now if cyberbullying “substantially” interferes with or disrupts the educational process, administrators may regulate and punish it — even when it originates on a computer or device off campus.

“As an educator and legislator, I’m pleased to see that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle came together to bring this bill to law,” said Senator Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, who sponsored the bill in the upper chamber. “In our digital age and society teachers and administrators need the ability to protect our Florida gems from the unwanted attacks students receive online.”

Bullying is not new, but the far-reach of 21st century technology is.  This is the age of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the ever-growing world of social media — where insults and names and embarrassing moments no longer live in our memories or slam books or notes, but they have the potential to live forever in cyberspace.

And teenagers are hooked on technology and more connected than ever before.  They text, they tweet, instagram, snapchat, facebook and vine.  Yes, these are all verbs now.  And it is almost impossible to monitor.

According to a 2012 Pew Internet Project survey, 78% of teens now have a cell phone and send an average of 60 text messages per day.  About three in four (74%) teens ages 12-17 say they access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

kids_and_social_media

78% of teens have a cell phone and send an average of 60 text messages per day, and bout three in four teens access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

The need to socialize among teens is nothing new.  I can remember spending hours on the phone with my friends when I was a kid and passing notes in class.  What teenaged girl never feared the teacher apprehending a note and reading it out loud to the class?

The notes have disappeared.  But the messages have not.  Teens, more acutely aware of their popularity – quantitatively measured in the number of friends, followers and/or likes received on their social media sites – and reputation than any other segment of the population, are constantly communicating and grooming their online presence.

Between classes, during lunch and any chance that they get, kids are on their phones or tablets.  And with the ability to photograph and videotape just about anything, at any time, anyone can be victimized.  And one mistake can live forever online.

And, very often, they do.  Gone are the days when the worst thing that a bully did was steal your lunch money.  With the prevalence of the internet in teenagers’ everyday lives, it may become very difficult – even next to impossible – to escape the torment.

Cyberbullies send mean text messages or emails, spread rumors on social networking sites, and send or post embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or create fake profiles.

A bully’s torment is no longer restricted to school; it is a constant onslaught of cyberattacks that reach kids at home, and on their most precious device, their cellphone.  And because quite often the attacks are posted anonymously, the origins are difficult to trace.  And once something is posted online, it can be difficult – sometimes nearly impossible – to remove.

The results can be tragic, like they were in the recent case of 15 year-old Monique Griego of Maryland who committed suicide after online bullies assaulted her with messages like, “I hope you die.  Go kill yourself.”

Or the case of the 15 year-old Audrie Pott, a California teen who was a member of a middle school marching band that performed at President Obama’s first inaugural parade in 2009.  Who, like Rehtaeh Parsons of Canada, committed suicide after allegedly being raped and then cyber-bullied after the attacks.  Having photos of themselves — during the attacks — go viral.

Or Jessica Laney, a popular 16 year-old soccer player in Pasco County, Florida who received constant anonymous messages telling her that she was fat, she was mean, no one liked her.  Messages telling her that she should die.  Jessica hanged herself.

These are the senseless tragedies that this new law seeks to avoid. But alone, it cannot end cyberbullying.  Kids live their lives online.  They are constantly connected.  More than ever, it is important for parents to keep track of what their kids are doing, both in the real world and the cyberworld.

This new law can be dangerous because it could give parents a false sense of security.  In most cases, school officials were already intervening in the case of bullying.

In the case of Gabrielle Molina, after the video of the fight went viral, a school counselor set up a meeting with Gabby’s parents and between the two girls.  No one knew the extent of the cyberbullying, except Molina’s friends and older sister, who did not speak up until after the girl’s death. The same is true in the Griego, Pott and Laney cases.  No adult in those girls’ lives knew about the cyberbullying that they endured.

Parents are a child’s best advocate.  More than ever, it is important for them to know what is going on in their lives and to monitor their cellphone and Internet activity.  And kids also need to know that it is important to come forward and ask for help when they or a friend are in danger.

Schools, administrators and teachers are doing everything they can to keep kids safe, but we don’t go home with them.  And we cannot police kids’ ever-growing online activity outside of school.  Too often, we do not discover what is going on at home, until something tragic happens.

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Originally published on WLRN.com in July, 2013: http://bit.ly/1oXF5bo