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What Does a Day in the Life of an Empower Student Look Like?

A typical “Day in the Life of a First Grade Student at Empower Charter School” might look like this:

Marisol arrives 15 minutes before school starts on Monday. She bounces out of the car and through the front doors of Empower Charter School, where she makes her way out to the playground and joins the other first graders. She walks past students in other grade levels who gather at their designated areas, and notices the familiar sounds of Spanish and English sprinkled in their casual conversation.

Coming out to the playground Marisol sees her friends playing a game of Sharks and Minnows, facilitated by her friend’s mom.

“You got this, keep running!” Mrs. Mendez, the second grade teacher, cheers from the sidelines. Mrs. Mendez is outside every Monday morning to supervise kids who get there a little early, but who aren’t enrolled in the YMCA’s before school program. Tomorrow is Tuesday, which means it will be Marisol’s teacher, Mr. Esparza’s turn to supervise kids in the morning.

Marisol puts her backpack down and hurries to join the “minnows,” dashing from one side of the playground to the other, avoiding the “sharks” in their pursuit. Soon the whistle blows. Smiling and energized, Marisol picks up her backpack and watches for Mr. Esparza to walk her class inside.

Mr. Esparza uses a calm and quiet voice to focus the class. He reminds them in Spanish to take out their non-fiction books and last night’s research notes, quickly store their other belongings, and join him in their spots at the carpet. Marisol takes three books about whales out of her backpack, along with a stack of sticky notes where she made drawings to record her thinking as she read and studied pictures. She’s careful to model what she’s doing for Mark, her Language Arts partner who is just beginning to learn Spanish. He follows her example, and together, they make their way to the carpet.

Marisol is glad that Spanish Language Arts is first on the agenda because she loves the project she’s working on. She’s writing and illustrating her very own information book about whales. She started by selecting a non-fiction topic to write about. Mr. Esparza helped find books and information about her topic at her just-right reading level so that she could research to write her own book. Now Mr. Esparza is teaching Marisol and her friends how to read non-fiction books, take notes, and notice the structure of other authors’ work. These reading skills support their writing. After a lesson about how to organize research notes into categories that form chapters, Marisol and Mark take their clipboards and sticky notes and find a quiet corner in the classroom to try it themselves. Just before recess Mr. Esparza brings the class together and a few students share their work. Mr. Esparza tells them that on their return from recess, they will continue to read and research, adding information to the categories they made.

Marisol is ready to play! On the playground there are 2 facilitated games to choose from, each being run by a parent volunteer. Marisol decides to play wall ball, and almost before she knows it, she’s worn out and ready for reading time. Her class heads back inside, and she quickly settles into her spot in the classroom where books about whales and sticky notes await. In Spanish she reads and studies pictures and sentences, adding information to her categories as she goes, noticing that many of the published authors she reads use chapters, just like she plans to!

After Spanish Language Arts comes math in Spanish. Marisol’s class is working on building fluency with number pairs to ten, and they are exploring the question, “How many ways can we represent the number ten?”. Students work in small groups to count objects, draw models, write number sentences and finally play a game to help them understand ten and different ways to make it. Mr. Esparza has a group of students in a circle, practicing representing ten on whiteboards. Similar to before, the classroom continues to feel like a team as children work together, discuss, and make meaning through strategically designed experiences.

Marisol’s class heads to lunch first.  Mr. Esparza has taught them that making colorful plates with fruits and vegetables is really healthy, and Marisol likes trying to make her plate look like a rainbow. After eating, there is a little time for recess and she decides to play jump rope. The jump ropes are new, she had walked by the office the other day when the Director was thanking a man wearing a gym t-shirt for donating them.

After lunch, there’s just a little bit of math time left. This is when Marisol’s class practices writing about math in their math journals. They debrief the lesson they did before lunch, naming the big learning for the day, and then Mr. Esparza helps them to write about it in Spanish. Marisol likes her math journal; it’s a collection of important math words, ideas, and pictures that help her remember all she’s learned.

Next it’s time for Language Arts in English. Marisol finds her place at the carpet next to Mark, and Mr. Esparza teaches the class about the different sounds that “a” makes in English. There are 2, and they’re both different from how “a” sounds in Spanish! Mark models correct pronunciation of the sounds for Marisol as they practice. Next Marisol and Mark work together to read words with “a” and sort them by long or short sound. Then, Mr. Esparza guides the class to read them in a shared reading of a poem.

After that it’s back out to recess, and Marisol is glad! As a first grader it’s hard to sit through a long afternoon without getting tired. This time she plays a quick game of “Red Light, Green Light!” with her friends before coming inside to English Language Development. Since it’s the beginning of the school year and the first graders are just getting to know everyone, the class is working on greetings. Mr. Esparza has charted different greetings that people use in English. The class talks about when, how, and with whom to use the greetings. They make 2 concentric circles to practice: the outer circle rotates around the inner circle, and pairs of students practice greeting each other depending on a slightly different scenario that Mr. Esparza gives each time. It’s fun! They get to move, talk, and pretend!

Science (taught in Spanish) comes next, and Marisol is excited. This is certainly going to help her with the book she’s writing because Mr. Esparza thoughtfully made the class study of life science coincide with their non-fiction writing about living things. Mark is able to understand the lesson because most of the words are similar to their nonfiction study in Spanish Language Arts. Today the class is talking about survival needs, and tomorrow will connect survival needs with habitat. Marisol can’t wait to see how whales fit in!

The day is almost over. By now Marisol has exercised, practiced 2 languages, improved socialization skills, developed conceptual understanding across disciplines, made applications of those concepts, and had the opportunity to reflect on her learning across subjects. Before the class meeting at the end of the day, Mr. Esparza brings the class outside for Physical Education. Capitalizing on a love they’ve demonstrated, he is teaching students the rules and positions of a formal soccer game, and engaging them in structured play. After today’s game is over, Marisol is well-exercised and tired. The class comes in for a final class meeting, where Mr. Esparza is teaching students to become self-reflective. Marisol thinks about what she accomplished today and of what she feels most proud. She shares with others. As a class, they list today’s successes and Marisol and her friends set personal and classroom community goals for tomorrow.

What it takes to be a good parent

Do you know what it takes to be a good parent?

I don’t know many who would say there is a single definition all parents would agree upon. Mostly that is because there are so many different philosophies about parenting. There are those who swear by attachment parenting, and others who refute that approach as being too coddling. There are parents who feel that parenting properly means guiding your children every step of the way, pushing them to push themselves and at times making choices for them rather than letting them choose. There are parents who believe in the value of strict discipline, and others who focus more on positive reinforcement to the exclusion of punishment or negative reinforcement. And then there are a host of cultural and societal factors that play into determining what is considered to be right or wrong parenting. I think that most parents would agree though that consistency makes for good parenting, nurturing, addressing basic needs as best you can, and keeping your children safe from harm are also pretty universal concepts. However, here is something many parents forget when trying to define what help them be a good parent: self-care.



You can’t just decide you’re not hungry…

One of the biggest changes that occurs at the time of becoming a parent is the loss of freedom. For the first real time in most people lives they become accountable to someone else at all times. Being a parent means always having to plan and prepare for someone else’s needs first. You can’t just decide you don’t feel hungry and skip making a meal for your children, nor can you decide you want to sleep in and leave them to their own devices to get to school (well not in the beginning at least). Being a parent means that in the back of your mind you are always worrying about someone else, and often times you are doing so to the detriment of your own needs. Here’s the thing, if you are not well taken care of then you can’t really take care of others well. If you are tired, run down, dissatisfied, over-scheduled then you are exhausting precious resources just trying to get by. Those resources are not available for all the people you take care of, no matter what you may think. I constantly remind patients of mine who are caretakers (parents or other) that the first person whose needs they have to meet are their own. 



 Feeling-up to being a super hero?

If you are unconvinced at this point ask yourself the following question:When are you more patient? When you are well rested or tired and haggard from running 15 different errands? When are you more fun to be around? Or when are you able to truly enjoy and immerse yourself in play and activities with your children? Last question, when do you find yourself raising your voice or doling out a dozen unrealistic consequences? Most parents will say that they are at their best after having had some kind of down time, whether it be resting or doing something for themselves. They will also say that they are at their worst or least ideal when they are tired, when they feel like they have been carting their families around all day, or running errands without a break for fun. It is no wonder that evenings are so difficult in most households -everyone is tired and therefore everyone is at their worst.


So if you ever wonder what makes a good parent here is a little piece of advice, a good parent is, among other things, a parent who takes care of themselves as well as they take care of others. Take the time every day for yourself, whether it is for five minutes or two hours every little bit counts. Ask yourself what you have been missing the most: maybe it’s five minutes of peace at the start of your day, or 15 minutes to listen to some music, maybe (and this is a favorite assignment of  mine) it’s 30 minutes of down time when you step through the door at the end of the day before you have to start thinking about dinner, homework, art projects, bath time, bedtime routines and getting lunch ready for the next day. If you remain skeptical at this point, why not run an little experiment. Try taking those five, 15 or 30 minutes for the next week and see whether you like you parenting any better, maybe even ask the kids what they thought of daddy or mommy at the end of the week.

What is a charter school?

A charter school?! Sounds exciting. But what are they?

Charter schools are free, public schools that offer parents more choice in their child’s education. Charter schools have the freedom to operate with autonomy, but with that comes an increased level of accountability for showing students are successful. Charter schools mainly receive funding from the state and federal government, but often need to raise additional funds to support their educational program. (Have you noticed us bugging you to donate to our school?)

We noticed the Q & A below from another charter school’s website, and know you’ll find it helpful, too! 

What is a charter school?
A charter school is an independent public school that operates independently of the district board of education. In effect, a charter school is a one-school public school district. A group of people — educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs or others — write the charter plan describing the school’s guiding principles, governance structure, and applicable accountability measures. If the state approves the charter, the state funds the charter on a per pupil basis. In most cases charter schools operate under a clear agreement between the state and the school: increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. Because they are schools of choice, they are held to the highest level of accountability — consumer demand.*
Why are charter schools so popular?
Proponents believe charter schools provide better opportunities for child-centered education and more educational choices for their children. Operators have the opportunity and the incentive to create schools that provide new and better services to students. And charters, bound by the high standards they have set for themselves, inspire the rest of the system to work harder and be more responsive to the needs of the children.*
Do charter schools work?
Every charter is different, and may of them are new. But their general success is consistent. An August 2001 report from the Center for Education Reform found that in 65 research studies done on charter schools, 61 found that charters overall provided innovative, accountable and successful. To read CER’s 2003 summary of charter school research findings—overwhelmingly supporting the viability and success of charters—see What the Research Reveals About Charter Schools.*
How do charter schools differ from traditional public schools?
Charter schools operate from 3 basic principles:

Accountability: Charter schools are held accountable for how well they educate children in a safe and responsible environment, not for compliance with district and state regulations. They are judged on how well they meet the student achievement goals established by their charter, and how well they manage the fiscal and operational responsibilities entrusted to them. Charter schools must operate lawfully and responsibly, with the highest regard for equity and excellence. If they fail to deliver, they are closed.

Choice: Parents, teachers, community groups, organizations, or individuals interested in creating a additional educational opportunities for children can start charter schools. Local and state school boards, colleges and universities, and other community agencies can sponsor them. Students choose to attend, and teachers choose to teach at charter schools.

Autonomy: Charter schools are freed from the traditional bureaucracy and regulations that some feel divert a school’s energy and resources toward compliance rather than excellence. Proponents of charter schools argue that instead of jumping through procedural hoops and over paperwork hurdles, educators can focus on setting and reaching high academic standards for their students.*

What is the difference between charter schools and private voucher schools?
Voucher plans allow parents to use their tax dollars that would otherwise be used to educate their child in a public school and apply those dollars towards tuition at a private or religious school. These schools may charge some amount beyond the voucher and may not have to accept all applicants, depending on the voucher program guidelines. Charter schools, on the other hand, are public schools that allow parents to exercise an option to have their child educated at a school outside of the traditional district system. Charter schools must accept all students on first come-first served basis or by lottery and cannot charge tuition.*
Do charter schools take money from public schools?
Charter schools are public schools. When a child leaves for a charter school the money follows that child. Proponents say this benefits the public school system by instilling a sense of accountability into the system regarding its services to the student and parents and its fiscal obligations. For more information on common misconceptions surrounding charter schools, see CHARTER SCHOOLS: Six Common Criticisms from Opponents—and Proof That They are Unfounded.*
* “Closing the Achievement Gap.” 04 Aug 2009. PBS. 4 Aug 2009 <>.

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