Angela Leeper

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For many students across the nation, back to school means more than shopping for new pencils, backpacks and clothes. It’s time to start searching for the right college or preparing for the first year away from home. While either experience can be daunting for teens and parents alike, several new books guide readers through the college selection process, the transition to college and even adventurous alternatives to the traditional university route.

“No future decision will carry as much social visibility as the college choice,” contends college advisor and author Joyce Slayton Mitchell. In her accessible 8 First Choices: An Expert’s Strategies for Getting into College, she eases high school students’ pressure by walking them step by step through the college admissions process—from testing, researching universities and selecting eight first choices to how financial aid works and how to nail the college essay, application and interview. In an age where college applications are at an all-time high and still on the rise, she shows the specifics deans are looking for, with tips from some of the most selective universities. Mitchell also describes how to demonstrate diversity, personalize the college selection process and stand out among thousands of applications, even if you’re an overrepresented applicant. Above all, she encourages high school students to take ownership of the decisions that will direct their future. In a concluding chapter to parents, she addresses their concerns while gently reminding them to foster their children’s independence in this character-building experience.

Temptation Island
For young women who’ve earned a spot in college (hopefully, one of their eight first choices), U Chic: The College Girl’s Guide to Everything offers hip yet down-to-earth suggestions on all areas of campus life. More than 30 women who’ve recently graduated from universities across the country give an insider’s scoop on getting along with roommates, dorm decorating, sororities, college perks and thriving when in the minority. While they touch upon studying and other ways to succeed in class, deciding on a major, campus safety, budgets, exercise and nutrition, the majority of this guide is dedicated to topics that parents tend to avoid. As one contributor writes, “College is the ultimate Temptation Island.” Whether it’s ditching the dorm and getting more involved on campus, “tech etiquette for a Facebook Age,” the dating scene, sex ed, “dormcest,” partying responsibly, depression or eating disorders, the authors dish it out with frank advice on surviving the newfound freedoms and temptations.

Letting go
Teenagers may think they know everything, but they can always use some help making the switch from high school to college. So can parents. Marie Pinak Carr’s Sending Your Child to College: The Prepared Parent’s Operational Manual provides myriad tips for parents’ new role and for preparing their children for the next big step in their lives. Kicking off with the mountains of required paperwork and making sure they aren’t billed twice for insurance, this chatty guide also reminds parents about checking accounts, budgets, laundry, campus safety, alcohol and drug use and other important topics they need to discuss with their fledgling collegiates. While some chapters focus on more serious matters, such as navigating campus, travel arrangements, health care and car emergencies, other chapters on furnishing a dorm room and thematic care packages remember the fun side of college. For parents who really want to stay connected, there’s even a quick chapter on volunteer possibilities, whether near or far from campus. But it’s the extensive checklists and forms throughout that are reasons enough to purchase this useful manual.

While the book above touches on the practical side of college, Marjorie Savage’s You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child Through the College Years focuses on the emotional transition—for students and parents—and makes an excellent companion guide. For parents who want to give their children space but also want to know how soon they can call after settling them into their dorms, this comprehensive book explains the change from primary caregiver to proud mentor and supporter. It addresses how college affects the entire family, from students’ range of emotions, especially in their first six weeks away from home, to ways parents can avoid empty nest feelings. Always encouraging parents to help and not “helicopter,” the author does let them know when their insights are important to share in such matters as finances, health, safety and the social scene. Each chapter concludes with a list of “Quick Tips for Students” for parents to pass along to their children. And just when parents are starting to grasp their new relationships with their children, they come home again. Luckily, there’s a section that covers this adjustment, too!

Going global
If all the talk of standardized tests, college applications and high tuition rates are causing extreme dizziness and heart palpitations, then the “anti-college prep handbook” The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education may be the best guide yet. In the summer of 2005, author Maya Frost, her husband and four teenage daughters left their suburban life in Oregon to live around the world. Whether parents are considering sending their high school- or college-age children to study abroad or the “full-family deal,” a short stay or total immersion, Frost describes how all of these options focus on children’s total development rather than just on their education and help prepare them for a global workplace. While packing up the family and moving to a foreign country may seem scary or like a glamorous never-ending vacation, the author also explains how to let go of fear, numerous expat misconceptions and key qualities for making the experience a success. A plethora of first-hand statements from experienced travelers reveals invaluable insight and the inspiration to get up and go—abroad.

Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond.

For many students across the nation, back to school means more than shopping for new pencils, backpacks and clothes. It’s time to start searching for the right college or preparing for the first year away from home. While either experience can be daunting for teens and parents alike, several new books guide readers through the […]
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It’s the time of year that parents eagerly await and students nervously dread: back to school. Four new picture books ease first-day jitters with a mix of humor, reality and fun.

Because socialization is as important as academics during the first year of school, parents and educators alike will welcome Rosemary Wells’ Kindergators: Hands Off, Harry!, the first title in a new series featuring a lively classroom of alligator kindergartners. Harry knocks down classmates, spills glue on Miracle’s shoes and ruins Benjamin’s shirt with paint. Time in the Thinking Chair and an emergency session of Friendly Circle give him the opportunity to think about where his personal space begins and ends and the three proper uses of hands: shake a hand, hold a hand and lend a hand. Harry redeems himself as playground monitor, using helping hands on scraped knees.

Always dreaming big, Louise Cheese makes her third appearance in Elise Primavera’s Louise the Big Cheese and the Back-to-School Smarty-Pants. This time Louise starts second grade with a burning desire to make straight A’s, and with a teacher named Mrs. Pearl, how can she go wrong? Louise soon discovers that her teacher is drab and rarely hands out A’s. Constantly discouraged by Mrs. Pearl’s “You can do better,” she feels vindicated by the sparkly substitute who gives everyone good grades—until Louise realizes her accomplishments no longer mean anything. Energetic watercolor illustrations capture Louise’s spunk, while thought bubbles reveal her true feelings, like wanting meticulous Mrs. Pearl back in the classroom.

From Harry Bliss, illustrator of the best-selling Diary of a Worm, comes Bailey, featuring another endearing and comical character. Bailey the dog attends school and enlivens the day in the process. After riding the bus (with his head out the window, of course), Bailey puts his doggie treats in his cubby, has an excuse for not doing his homework (he ate it!) and gives a class report on FDR’s famous pooch, Fala. Even if classmates raise their eyebrows at Bailey’s water bowl at lunch, they can’t help but love the way he wags his tail during free dance.

In Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five, Valorie Fisher gives parents an entertaining way to prepare young children for kindergarten. Drawing on her collection of vintage tiny toys, she poses her playthings against bright backgrounds to create eye-catching photographs that introduce the concepts of the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, opposites, seasons and weather. The real amusement comes from the book’s many surprises, including an expressive old-fashioned doll pushing a giant frog while her equally animated double tries to pull it from the other side. Fisher’s entertaining retro collections will leave children hoping that school will be just as enjoyable as this book.


It’s the time of year that parents eagerly await and students nervously dread: back to school. Four new picture books ease first-day jitters with a mix of humor, reality and fun. A SHOW OF HANDSBecause socialization is as important as academics during the first year of school, parents and educators alike will welcome Rosemary Wells’ […]
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National debates on education reform have never been fiercer. Four new memoirs that range from inspiring to determined to hilarious fuel the discussion as their authors reflect on challenges and innovations in public schools, charter schools, educational nonprofit programs and even homeschooling.

Before his successful career in acting, Tony Danza earned a degree in history education, fully intending to become a teacher. When he found himself pushing 60, separated from his wife of more than 20 years and dealing with the cancellation of his talk show, Danza decided to return to his first, unfulfilled passion: teaching. His year spent as a 10th grade English teacher at Northeast High, an inner-city public school in Philadelphia, was depicted in the brief 2010 A&E television series, “Teach.” In I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, to be published in September, he gives an enlightening, behind-the-scenes look at what happened when the cameras weren’t filming.

In his toughest role yet, with his harshest critics seated right in front of him, a tearful and frustrated Danza struggles to uphold the school’s mantra—“engage the students.” Often at odds with his producers, who only want to heighten the drama for television, he fights to keep his experience as authentic as possible for both himself and his students. His observations about teaching, from wondering how technology will shape the way kids learn to the emphasis on testing, echo common national concerns. With the help of his “half-sandwich club,” based on his father’s practice of sharing his sandwiches, he reaches out to any student in need. Ultimately finding teaching to be rewarding yet emotionally grueling, Danza brings the profession the recognition it deserves in this touching and candid account.

Founder and CEO of Harlem Village Academies Deborah Kenny has always believed in social justice, but after her husband’s death from leukemia in 2001, she realized that if she really wanted to make a difference in the world, she would have to put her sadness aside. Born to Rise chronicles her arduous path to open not one but two charter schools in Harlem neighborhoods that had some of New York’s lowest test scores. In a time when there was little information on starting a charter school in the state of New York, Kenny quit her job and raised her three children on her meager savings while building the schools’ framework, seeking startup funding and performing hundreds of other pivotal tasks.

Deciding early on that an ideal school should focus on hiring and developing superior teachers rather than setting up a curriculum to be strictly followed, Kenny revolutionized public education. Her heartfelt narration reveals numerous mistakes along the way, from not remembering to have the school building unlocked on the first day to forgetting her own sense of fun amid the business of running a school, and celebrates such triumphs as ranking first in math scores across the state’s public schools and the bittersweet farewell of Harlem Village Academies’ first high school graduates. In the process of building these schools, Kenny realizes that she’s also built a culture and community. Anyone interested in school reform—whether parents, teachers or leaders—should begin with this powerful story.

A Year Up by Gerald Chertavian shows that school age children are not America’s only underserved population. As the nation’s demand for high-quality, entry-level workers increases, an estimated 5 million young adults ages 18-24 are currently unemployed and don’t possess more than a high school diploma. Suddenly a multi-millionaire when his startup dot-com business was sold and inspired by his “little brother” David, from the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, social entrepreneur Chertavian created Year Up, a nonprofit workforce development program for urban young adults, in 2000. Starting with 22 students from Boston’s tough inner-city neighborhoods, the thriving program has spread to eight additional cities.

Chertavian describes with sincerity and detail the journey toward implementing this one-year program that combines marketable computer skills with professional skills, followed by an internship with a top company. He also profiles numerous students and staff who have overcome such hardships as homelessness, poverty, neighborhoods infested with drugs and violence, limited education and the responsibilities of single parenting. Some of his key decisions, like placing Year Up centers in downtown financial districts to get students out of their dangerous neighborhoods and into the setting of the corporate world, reveal the secrets of his success. Most importantly, Chertavian demonstrates that an investment in America’s young people is an investment in America’s future.

Frustrated by her daughter Alice’s constant finagling out of doing her math homework and not, as they say, “reaching her full potential,” Quinn Cummings decided to give homeschooling a try for one year. Assuming that the homeschool movement began in the U.S. during colonial times (it did start in the U.S., but not until 1982), she gives herself homework, exploring the nearly 2 million homeschooled children and myriad homeschooling philosophies. The result is the frank and irreverent The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling in which the former child actor from The Goodbye Girl and the 1970s television drama “Family” searches for the ideal way to homeschool her daughter (and validate her decision).

Cummings doesn’t limit her information gathering to Google searches. She observes children without limits at a Radical Unschooling conference in Boston, chaperones a Christian homeschool prom in Indiana, sneaks into the Sacramento convention of a secretive, ultra-authoritarian Christian sect and engages in other laugh-out-loud encounters, all in the name of research. Hearing over and over again about the doomed fate of homeschoolers—no socialization—she interjects French lessons, team sports and the playground into Alice’s repertoire, all with mixed results. Realizing that some of Alice’s best learning—and bonding—occurred on their routine hikes, Cummings also discovers that there’s no typical homeschool family, just as giving children their best start isn’t limited to one curriculum.

National debates on education reform have never been fiercer. Four new memoirs that range from inspiring to determined to hilarious fuel the discussion as their authors reflect on challenges and innovations in public schools, charter schools, educational nonprofit programs and even homeschooling. ROOKIE IN THE CLASSROOMBefore his successful career in acting, Tony Danza earned a […]
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Children, parents and teachers alike will be thankful for a cornucopia of new books about Thanksgiving. With humor, history and charm, these four new books explore the holiday and its meaning—and offer a feast for young minds.


Most children (and adults) assume that Thanksgiving has been a holiday since the first feast shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans. Even by the 1800s, Thanksgiving, regarded as a New England holiday at the time, was observed on different days in different states. Sarah Gives Thanks, a picture-book biography written by Mike Allegra and illustrated by David Gardner, depicts the true story of one woman’s efforts to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. It may have seemed in 1822 that Sarah Hale, a widow with five children, had little to be thankful for, but she put her grief aside to feed her family. With limited possibilities for women, she began writing and was soon hired as the editor of two widely read women’s magazines. Hale became a household name and used her notoriety to champion the causes of women’s education and Thanksgiving. After 36 years of rejection from presidents, she caught the attention of Abraham Lincoln, who agreed that a day of thanks was just what a war-torn nation needed. Sarah’s foresight and determination come alive in this well-told tale.


Just in time for Thanksgiving, best-selling author Todd Parr delivers more of his bold, geometric illustrations to preschoolers in The Thankful Book. From hugs and kisses to friends and walks with caregivers, young children and animals express their thankfulness for many of the special things and moments in their lives. Some of the sentiments, such as “I am thankful for my hair because it makes me unique,” encourage self-acceptance, while others, such as “I am thankful for colors because they make me want to paint,” inspire creativity and nurturing one’s talents. Still other thankful notes recognize a preschooler’s sense of wonder, and a nod to Parr’s previous picture book, The Underwear Book, shows appreciation for preschoolers’ desire for silliness as well. Although most appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday, this joyful book can be used all year long to encourage young children to find gratitude around them.


Fans of Karma Wilson’s wildly popular Bear Snores On and its follow-up picture books will welcome another addition with Bear Says Thanks. As the leaves fall outside his cave, the bear, presumably waiting for hibernation, has grown bored. He decides to remedy the situation with a feast, but discovers that his cupboard is bare. One by one, however, the woodland animals arrive with nuts, fish, muffins, pies and all the makings of a fine dinner. The bear does indeed say thanks for each offering, but soon despairs when he cannot add his own delicious treats to the celebration. The other creatures reassure him that he doesn’t need any food because he already has some of the best things to share—his stories. Once again, Wilson’s bouncy rhymes, complemented by a message of friendship and Jane Chapman’s adorable illustrations in warm, seasonal colors, will delight readers as they prepare for their own Thanksgiving dinners.


Irrepressible first grader Junie B. Jones brings hilarity to the holiday in her latest escapade, Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff). The students in Room One have a chance to win the school’s Thanksgiving prize, homemade pumpkin pies, if they can come up with the best list of things to be thankful for. While the students’ sharing of items, including toilet paper, rainbow sprinkles and exploding biscuits, doesn’t impress their teacher, Mr. Scary, it will elicit plenty of laughs from young readers. So too will Junie’s ongoing rivalry with persnickety May, as well as the classroom feast with friends and family, and the disgusting way the students have concocted to get rid of the unwanted pies if they win. Underneath the incorrect grammar and irreverent humor lies camaraderie among the classmates, a true spirit of thankfulness and connections to the first Thanksgiving. And when Room One gets a taste of the esteemed pumpkin pies, they’re thankful they didn’t waste them after all.

Children, parents and teachers alike will be thankful for a cornucopia of new books about Thanksgiving. With humor, history and charm, these four new books explore the holiday and its meaning—and offer a feast for young minds. A HOLIDAY IN THE MAKING Most children (and adults) assume that Thanksgiving has been a holiday since the […]
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From New York to Los Angeles and from the White House’s backyard to classrooms across the country, education is weighing on the minds of many Americans. Four new books tackle some of the key challenges that continue to stir debate. Confronting the effects of standardized testing, racial disparity, child poverty, teacher morale and quality teaching, these books offer no-holds-barred accounts of the state of education.


Rafe Esquith—who has spent 30-plus years teaching fifth and sixth graders at Los Angeles’ impoverished Hobart Boulevard Elementary School and is known for transforming his students through Shakespearean performances (as depicted in the documentary film The Hobart Shakespeareans)—returns with his signature wit and wisdom in Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!” Esquith’s focus in his fourth book is more on morale than teaching tips. Dividing the book into sections for new teachers, mid-career teachers and classroom veterans, Esquith keeps it real, indeed, as he begins with his best advice: “You are going to have bad days.” Using humorous and memorable anecdotes from his own time in the classroom, he recognizes the isolation, exhaustion, jealousy, blame and guilt that come with teaching and encourages teachers not to give up. Whether discussing out-of-touch administrators, confrontational parents, apathetic students or the current era of high-stakes testing, the best-selling author reminds teachers to choose their character over their reputation and find balance in their professional and personal lives. Ever inspirational, Esquith shows educators that the best teaching is a journey, not a race to the top.

Respect for teachers and higher expectations for students are among the keys to success.


Once touted as “The Greatest Negro High School in the World” by the NAACP, Dunbar High School of Washington, D.C., was recently categorized as a failing school. Inspired by her parents (both Dunbar graduates), award-winning journalist Alison Stewart traces the school’s path from prestige to decline in First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School. Upon its opening, Dunbar became synonymous with academic rigor, graduating such notable alums as Eva Dykes, the first African-American woman to receive a doctoral degree, and Edward Brooke, the first African American popularly elected to the Senate, as well as prominent scientists, artists, musicians, playwrights and civil rights activists. Its faculty included some of the most highly educated black teachers of the era, since Jim Crow laws barred them from working at other institutions. But as the neighborhoods surrounding Dunbar suffered economic and social woes, so, too, did the high school. When the author visited Dunbar, she was staggered to discover the faded glory of a building in disrepair and low-performing students with few dreams of college. Her detailed account of the school’s history firmly situates Dunbar in the broader context of the country’s educational reform and struggle for racial equality. As Dunbar looks to rebuild itself with a new building, new teachers and new students, Stewart sees a hopeful future.


Formerly a senior vice president in publishing, John Owens traded a comfy office for a classroom in one of New York City’s tough South Bronx neighborhoods because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. Based on an article he wrote for, which immediately went viral, Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education recounts Owens’ first—and only—year in a high school he calls Latinate. He explains how, within days, he became a victim of his “crazed visionary manager” (aka the principal he refers to as Ms. P.) who set unattainable school-wide goals, terrorized teachers with threats of “unsatisfactory” rankings and filled folders with hard-working teachers’ presumed misdeeds. Owens uses vignettes from his teaching experience to introduce problems in the American educational system, most notably how teachers are blamed for today’s failing public schools and how the “witch-hunt” for bad teachers is destroying classrooms. He also emphatically addresses how the data-driven school reform movement leaves principals with all the power (even turning some into cheating “Bernie Madoffs of test scores”) and teachers with ineffective evaluations. His concluding lessons are a heartfelt call to action.


When the U.S. scored 26th in critical thinking in math, below the average for the developed world, acclaimed journalist Amanda Ripley wondered why some students learned more and others less than their global counterparts. The result is The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, in which the author follows three teens in different parts of the world through a year of high school. She purposely selected Finland, South Korea and Poland, nations that recently ranked much lower among their developed peers but now rank well above the U.S. In Finland, Ripley found teacher preparation programs as selective as those for U.S. medical schools. In Korea, parents acted as coaches to their children, compared to American parents who act more like cheerleaders. While poverty has been cited as a factor in America’s failing schools, Poland, with an even higher poverty rate than the U.S., delayed tracking students until the end of their school careers. Although Ripley observed three different approaches, she also observed commonality and perhaps the key to success: respect for teachers and higher expectations for students.

Ripley’s stirring investigation debunks many tenets of current education reform—but are U.S. leaders listening?

From New York to Los Angeles and from the White House’s backyard to classrooms across the country, education is weighing on the minds of many Americans. Four new books tackle some of the key challenges that continue to stir debate. Confronting the effects of standardized testing, racial disparity, child poverty, teacher morale and quality teaching, […]
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As a new school year begins, four new titles reveal that teachers can but do change lives in classrooms every day. Chronicling how teachers adapt to change, improve their methods and even learn from their own students, these books will appeal to all those interested in the impact of education. 

Do some teachers have natural  qualities that make them more effective educators? Elizabeth Green, editor-in-chief of website Chalkbeat New York, explores that question in Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (And How to Teach It to Everyone). Expanding on an essay she wrote for the New York Times Magazine, Green gives a historical overview of studies on teaching, from the perspectives of such experts as behavioral and cognitive psychologists, educational specialists, economists and entrepreneurs. Among those cited are noted individuals in the field of education, including Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, and mathematics teaching specialists Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball. Green also reflects on whether such recent developments as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Common Core have influenced teacher performance. Using numerous examples of instructional methods and students’ reactions to math problems, Green shows how teaching is anything but natural work. In this era of high-stakes standards, with an emphasis on accountability but little guidance, the author makes the case through thoughtful details that great teachers are made, not born. As Green advocates for practice-based teacher education, she brings hope and renewal to the field.

Just as he reflected on the state of dying bookstores in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee turns to the plight of declining public schools in the slim yet moving Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom. Admittedly an average student, Buzbee attended California public schools when they were ranked first in the nation. Now these same schools scrape the bottom at 48th or 49th. To try to understand this fall, the author returns to the same schools he attended as a child and teenager. As he recalls visceral moments during his education, from learning to read with Ginn and Co. textbooks to the terror of locker room nakedness in P.E., Buzbee offers short, appealing histories of such staples as kindergartens, blackboards and school buses, and explains how they transformed the American school environment. He never forgets the most important asset in any school—the teachers—and recalls how they changed his own life after his father died. But in this era of budget cuts, metal detectors and teachers forced to take second jobs to make ends meet, Buzbee also draws attention to the social, political and economic changes needed to create better schools. Part personal recollection, part history lesson, part call to action, Blackboard is all eloquence.

When his wife changed jobs and his family needed health insurance, Garret Keizer returned, after a 14-year hiatus, to teaching at the same high school where he started his career 30 years earlier. A contributing editor of Harper’s magazine, author (Privacy) and a former Guggenheim Fellow, Keizer documents a one-year stint as an English teacher in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, one of the state’s poorest regions, in Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher. This candid month-by-month account describes his time with his working-class students, as he wonders what they will do for employment and how to prepare them properly. Trying to make connections with his students and peers and keep his “ancient” teaching techniques alive—despite his students’ reluctance to consult books and a decimated library replaced with computers for reading—he finds education vastly transformed since he last set foot in a classroom. Much of Keizer’s memoir is dedicated to the biggest changes: uniform instruction (i.e., state and Common Core standards) and computerized productivity tools. Ironically, the latter make him devote more time to data and less time to educational substance. Readers will empathize with Keizer’s bittersweet feelings in June, when school is out and another year is not an option.

When Kim Bearden began her career as an educator, she assumed she would be the one doing all the teaching in her classroom. Instead, she recognizes the insight and wisdom she’s gleaned from her students in Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me. Drawing on 27 years of experience as a teacher, curriculum director, middle school principal and cofounder of the Ron Clark Academy (an innovative, internationally renowned middle school in Atlanta), Bearden offers anecdotes, analogies and examples of creative problem-solving. Related in Bearden’s down-to-earth voice, these honest and uplifting lessons show the importance of relationship building, tenacity, gratitude and even magic and play. Bearden explains how she and her students “do see color,” embracing and celebrating differences in culture. She shows that we sometimes have to identify the greatness in others before they see it for themselves, and that our individual talents, which may seem like misshapen puzzle pieces, can fit together to make a beautiful picture. While the author gives a teacher’s perspective, the recommendations here are applicable to anyone who works with youth or the public.


This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As a new school year begins, four new titles reveal that teachers can but do change lives in classrooms every day. Chronicling how teachers adapt to change, improve their methods and even learn from their own students, these books will appeal to all those interested in the impact of education.
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Between high-stakes testing and the high price of college, school can seem stressful and uninviting. But four new books show how education can inspire children, uplift communities and transform the future.

For Kristina Rizga, what started as a reporting assignment for Mother Jones turned into a four-year investigation of San Francisco’s Mission High School. When she first entered Mission High—a school of 950 incredibly diverse students from more than 40 countries; 75 percent are poor and 38 percent are English language learners—it was one of the lowest performing schools in the country. It was also at a crossroads, forced to face its subpar test scores or prepare for serious government intervention. In Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph, Rizga delivers an intimate look at how an alternative, progressive approach to education works at this school. 

Accessible and thoroughly researched, Rizga’s book covers a brief history of America’s education reform and the path to high-stakes testing, and weaves in profiles of Mission’s students and faculty. These profiles form the heart of the book, showing students who find community and success (even if not measurable by a multiple-choice test), teachers who provide encouragement, personalized instruction and more meaningful assessments, and a principal who refuses to “teach to the test” and gives teachers a say in developing curriculum. Through their accounts, Rizga makes a strong case against test scores as a way to monitor individual learning and for teachers being in charge of school reform and accountability.

For many families, going to college is one of the biggest expenses they will ever undertake. Understandably, they want a return on this investment. But with no definite information on the payoff, the answer is never a simple yes or no. In Will College Pay Off?, Peter Cappelli examines factors that will determine whether a college or four-year degree program is worthwhile.

Cappelli focuses on the changing relationship between college and the workplace. As companies increasingly expect certain skills in recent graduates, colleges have found themselves in the middle of a dysfunctional supply chain. Many have responded with a massive shift toward programs that target niches in the job market and promise job skills. Cappelli asserts that the push away from the liberal arts may actually be hindering students’ chances of finding jobs after graduation.

He also dispels many myths about college education and the labor market, such as the rumor that there is a shortage of talent in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, or that students just need to pick “practical” majors with a clear path to jobs. The best chances for a return on a college education, Cappelli contends, come through simply finishing college in a timely manner and considering a career as a marathon, not a sprint.

Once your daughter, granddaughter or niece has been admitted to college, The Her Campus Guide to College Life should be requisite reading. Authored by the writers and editors of, this guide’s direct, conversational style covers concerns like safety—both on and off campus—healthy eating habits, getting enough sleep and homesickness while also including advice for smarter alcohol consumption and the warning signs of addiction. The Her Campus Guide also breaks down ways to manage a wide variety of relationships, from roommates (including roommate conflicts and contracts) and resident assistants to professors and even “frenemies.” The chapter on dating, hooking up and sex offers straightforward, no-nonsense advice on “dormcest,” what to expect with first-time sex and other difficult, real-world topics.

Later sections cover balancing studying with extracurriculars, Greek life and social media as well as tips on managing money and landing an internship or first professional job. A variety of checklists and wellness check-ins keep this guide interactive and make it ideal for both individual use and sharing.

Veteran educators may know Ron Clark from his New York Times bestseller The Essential 55, with rules about manners and success for the classroom and beyond. The former Disney Teacher of the Year Award winner and co-founder of the nationally recognized Ron Clark Academy returns with Move Your Bus. Once again he blends Southern charm with a direct approach to inspire high performance.

Clark begins with a parable of an organization like a Flintstones-style bus powered by the passengers. He then defines five types of individuals on the bus: runners (the force behind the success), joggers (who meet basic expectations), walkers (who plod through their jobs), riders (who are dead weight) and drivers (who steer an organization). To make a bus, or organization, move, Clark declares that more runners are needed and that the desire to run is in all of us.

He continues the bus parable throughout, offering practical and encouraging tips on how to become a runner. While seemingly easy advice such as asking for help, accepting criticism and listening more than talking requires deep reflection. Clark’s personal experiences, as well as anecdotes from his teaching staff, highlight the tips in action. Although examples come from Clark’s teaching career, this guide is great for teams, committees, businesses or any organized group that wants to move forward—and enjoy the ride.


This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Between high-stakes testing and the high price of college, school can seem stressful and uninviting. But four new books show how education can inspire children, uplift communities and transform the future.
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As the start of a new school year approaches, five new books show the differences made in the lives of students by connected educators, a productive environment and even an agreeable substitute teacher.

When Denver teacher Kyle Schwartz gave each of her third graders a sticky note and the prompt, “I wish my teacher knew,” she was floored by the heartfelt responses from children who described their painful home lives, the loneliness they face, the things that bring them joy and pride, and their hopes for the future. Schwartz began tweeting her students’ answers and was surprised when her seemingly simple exercise went viral.

She explains the phenomenon in I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids. Schwartz opens with an overview of the project’s purpose: to create community and a positive learning environment for every child. She argues that teachers can make an impact on children’s lives in many difficult areas, including poverty, grief and loss, trauma and accepting families in all their forms. Detailed Teacher Tools provide suggestions for transforming any classroom or school into a greater community. After reading Schwartz’s book, teachers will be inspired to join the #IWishMyTeacherKnew movement and get to know their students better.

Before receiving funding in 2010 to open a small public middle school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, principal Nadia Lopez envisioned her students crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Even though they live near this architectural marvel, most had never seen it, let alone walked across it. Crossing the bridge would not only become a rite of passage for these students, it would also come to symbolize the connection between their difficult past and a brighter future.

In The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World, the compassionate yet no-nonsense Lopez describes how she started from scratch to build a school that became a beacon of hope, determination and success. If her story sounds familiar, it’s because her accomplishments drew widespread praise after a student revealed them on the popular Humans of New York blog. In this stirring account, Lopez reveals that listening to her students and seeing them as individuals despite their harsh environment have made all the difference.

Successful teaching is the best preventative discipline method. Recognizing that teachers and kids aren’t perfect, however, 1-2-3 Magic in the Classroom: Effective Discipline for Pre-K through Grade 8 offers easy-to-implement strategies as a backup. Authors Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., and Sarah Jane Schonour, M.A., based this guide for educators on 1-2-3 Magic, a bestselling discipline guide for parents.

After learning about the “teacher in charge” method that uses counting and non-judgmental consequences, readers are introduced to “start” behaviors (such as doing classwork) and “stop” behaviors (such as yelling). The authors emphasize the importance of avoiding the two biggest discipline mistakes: too much talking and too much emotion. To help with implementation, they present numerous scenarios to think about or role play.

For educators who worry about more serious discipline problems, disciplining students with developmental differences or discipline at different grade levels, the guide includes comprehensive Q&As and more scenarios from the trenches. It might not be true magic, but if used successfully, this technique will feel like it.

Manufacturing in the United States is rebounding, and according to Katherine S. Newman and Hella Winston, many fast-growing occupations are considered “middle skill.” Labor force -shortages have already occurred in jobs that require education beyond high school, but not a four-year college degree. Reskilling America offers a convincing argument for bringing back vocational education.

Beginning with a history of vocational education and the transition to “college for all,” which left many students, particularly minority men, without career prospects, the thought-provoking text emphasizes investment in training institutions, both in high schools and community colleges. It looks to Germany as a model for relationships between industry and education that have fostered a robust dual system combining vocational education with apprenticeships. The authors describe the success of this system, Germany’s attempt at creating similar programs in the U.S. and the slow revival of vocational education in U.S. schools. Not just funding—but a renewed respect for middle-skill labor—might be the key to success in this country.

Award-winning author Nicholson Baker has tackled such daunting subjects as World War II, library preservation, poetry and even erotic stories. He takes on perhaps his most unwieldy topic yet—the state of American education—in Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. In this hefty volume, to be published September 6, Baker recounts the 28 days he spent in Maine’s public schools in 2014 as “the lowest-ranking participant in American education: a substitute teacher.” With a clean criminal record and “a willingness to tolerate your own ineptitude,” plus a short evening course that would earn him an extra $5 per day, Baker had all he needed to substitute.

Each chapter, representing one day, gives a snapshot into a classroom, from kindergarten to high school special education math. Rather than provide commentary, the author lets the teacher’s sub plans, classroom environment and dialogue with and between students guide each chapter. The result is an often chaotic, exhausting—and entertaining—view of the school day in which he is usually saved by coffee, an eager student and the final bell. Baker emerges with empathetic appreciation for all the students and teachers who bear these ups and downs daily.


This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As the start of a new school year approaches, five new books show the differences made in the lives of students by connected educators, a productive environment and even an agreeable substitute teacher.
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From China to the neighborhood down the street, parents and educators around the world are continually pondering the best environments, teaching methods and curricula for today’s young people. To guide their decisions, we’re highlighting five recent and upcoming books that reflect some of the most interesting approaches to improving the educational experience.

Public, private, charter, online, home, magnet—the list goes on. With so many educational options, how do parents choose the best one for their child? Luckily, Kevin Leman, a psychologist and author of more than 50 books on parenting and relationships, offers Education a la Carte: Choosing the Best Schooling Options for Your Child. This no-nonsense guide discusses the possible benefits of each kind of school environment and focuses on finding the right fit for each child.

Leman will ease parents’ tension as he addresses typical concerns and shows how learning styles, birth order and parenting styles all factor into the decision process. Additional chapters cover topics such as preschool and kindergarten readiness, homework and grades. No matter the subject, Leman encourages parents to keep realistic expectations and to motivate with approval rather than criticism.

Liberal arts majors are often the punchline of jokes. In You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education, Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author George Anders reveals that liberal arts majors are overtaking jobs once reserved for graduates with computer science and business degrees. He highlights the irony that, as tech fields become increasingly dependent on automation, the need for the human touch has never been more essential.

Anders explains how liberal arts majors offer valuable critical thinking skills and gives examples of individuals whose liberal arts degrees took them down unexpected paths. For instance, Bess Yount, who holds a sociology degree, is on Facebook’s sales and marketing team, and Stewart Butterfield, a philosophy major, now runs Slack Technologies. While the book is geared toward recent grads, even career switchers can benefit from the job strategies and insight into the dozens of major companies actively recruiting liberal arts majors. Above all, Anders shows that success is rarely a straight line.

When Chinese-American journalist Lenora Chu and her husband took jobs in Shanghai, they eagerly enrolled their 3-year-old son, Rainey, in Soong Qing Ling, an elite “kindergarten” that would instill academic drive seemingly missing in the U.S. The author discovered that while Rainey outpaced his American counterparts in math and language, he was also subjected to harsh discipline, propaganda and extreme competition. The latter even led to bribery, with Chu finding herself gifting Coach purses in exchange for school opportunities.

Struck by these differences, Chu was curious about the Chinese education system. The result is Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve. Mixing personal anecdotes, observations of Chinese classrooms, interviews with parents and students and thought-provoking facts about Chinese education, the author reveals how yingshi jiaoyu—high-stakes testing—has created a culture of stress and conformity. Although Chinese schools have been influenced to some degree by Western ideals, such as creativity and independence, she notes that, ironically, American schools increasingly emphasize test taking. In the end, Chu lets readers consider what skills a 21st-century student needs and offers insight on the future of global education.

As British educator Katherine Weare reminds readers, schools are busy, pressured environments where teachers and students are often more concerned with the future than enjoying the present moment of learning. Weare and co-author Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and international peace activist, also recognize that teachers typically focus on others’ needs over their own. Their secular collaboration, Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, brings mindfulness to teachers and students.

Essays from Nhat Hanh set a reassuring mood to prepare for mindfulness exercises, while the second part of the book explains ties between these techniques and valuable education traits. Weare also addresses best practices and shows how mindfulness can be integrated in specific curriculum areas. Once comfortable with these practices, teachers can move on to suggestions for cultivating mindfulness across school communities.

Even after experiencing burnout his first year of teaching, Timothy D. Walker, a contributing writer on education issues for The Atlantic, still espoused that good teachers “don’t do short workdays” but rather “push themselves—to the limit.” That is, until he relocated to his Finnish wife’s home country to teach elementary school. While educators around the world have recognized Finland’s consistent top scores in reading, math and science on international tests, the author was instead struck by how joy was prioritized in Finnish schools.

In Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms, Walker offers realistic tips on creating joyful schools, arranged according to five “ingredients” of happiness: well-being, belonging, autonomy, mastery and mindset. From scheduling brain breaks to cultivating a community of adults who share responsibility for a child to discussing grades so students can reflect on their learning, the tips are prefaced with lively anecdotes from the author’s own classroom experiences and often reveal how he overcame American biases to embrace them. While some strategies may need to be adapted to individual schools, they all highlight how we can learn to value happiness more than achievement.


This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

We’ve highlighted five recent and upcoming books that reflect some of the most interesting approaches to improving the educational experience.

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Education doesn’t happen in a bubble. These five new books highlight important connections between education and history, business, entrepreneurship, safety and democracy.

In The Lost Education of Horace Tate, Emory University professor Vanessa Siddle Walker shows how black educators played hidden yet significant roles in the civil rights movement. Walker focuses on Horace Tate, a Georgia educator who fought for equality across the state and throughout the South. This detailed account traces Tate’s path from college student to high school principal to president of the black-affiliated Georgia Teacher and Educator Association (GT&EA).

Along the way, Tate learned to be an effective leader in a system controlled by white people. Refusing to apply for a job at the superintendent’s back door or to accept discarded textbooks from the white school, he was an ardent and vocal champion for justice. But Tate and other black educators realized that stealth could be more effective and less dangerous. For instance, when Southern educators risked losing their jobs by contributing to the NAACP, they funneled funds instead through the GT&EA. As readers discover Tate’s place in history, they’ll also enjoy reading about Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. DuBois and other activists portrayed in rarely seen moments.

Why do many girls start out naturally brilliant in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), only to have their imagination and talent conditioned out of them by society and education? In VentureGirls: Raising Girls to Be Tomorrow’s Leaders, Cristal Glangchai addresses how to turn this national dilemma into a victory. An engineer, nanoscientist, professor and entrepreneur, Glangchai is also the founder of VentureLab, a nonprofit that helps children, particularly girls, develop STEM and entrepreneurial skills.

After describing challenges and attitudes that create barriers for girls and women, such as the notion that only men are natural leaders and media stereotypes that depict girls as passive princesses, Glangchai explains why entrepreneurial skills are the key to closing the female empowerment gap. She thoughtfully clarifies that entrepreneurship is not simply the notion of starting businesses but rather a combination of character traits, from persistence to empathy and resourcefulness, that can aid in achieving success. With an emphasis on curiosity, play and grit, Glangchai offers advice, pertinent research, stories of accomplishment and activities to inspire the next generation of girls.

Drawing on the work of W. Edwards Deming, Andrea Gabor tackles the seemingly unwieldy topic of education reform. Gabor, a business journalist and former editor at U.S. News & World Report, frames the discussion as a business story as she explores how schools, like corporations, are complex social systems and living communities. In After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform, her goal is to understand what makes long-term education reform work.

Using examples from schools in New York City, Massachusetts and Leander, Texas, the author’s frank narrative describes how these successful reforms began as small grassroots movements that relied on participation and collaboration among teachers, students, and the community. Conversely, she looks at unsuccessful developments, particularly charter-school organizations and a reliance on standardized testing and rote learning, which, she contends, create hostility towards teachers and increase segregation. The key, Gabor concludes, is a radical departure from a one-size-fits-all approach to traditional education and re-establishing a connection between education and democracy.

When a 19-year-old began firing an AR-15 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, 2018, David Hogg (class of 2018), his sister, Lauren Hogg (class of 2021), and many classmates first assumed the sounds were part of an active-shooter drill. For students born after Columbine and 9/11, the threat of school shootings and mass murders has become a disturbingly common occurrence. But just a few minutes after the perpetrator’s first gunshots, 17 students and faculty were dead and over a dozen more wounded.

In #NEVERAGAIN: A New Generation Draws the Line, David and Lauren Hogg alternate describing the traumatic events of that day and how collective anger, grief and need for immediate change ignited the student-led movement for gun control reform. Their no-holds-barred account details the hatred from extremists that surfaced after the students went public and the young activists’ commitment to speaking up for themselves when the adults around them would not. This slim but powerful and strategic manifesto is a wake-up call to end gun violence.

Segregation, prayer in schools, strip searches, required education for undocumented immigrants, corporal punishment and transgender bathrooms—these are just some of the pivotal issues in K-12 education that have been brought before the Supreme Court. Justin Driver, a former high school teacher and an award-winning constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, examines the intersection between two of the country’s most venerable institutions in The Schoolhouse Gate.

Following an overview of the court’s few interactions with public education before World War II, Driver focuses on decisive court cases involving students’ rights since then. As he delves into free expression, school discipline, criminal procedure, religion and the shifting meaning of equal protection, the author looks at the various perspectives of each case and its impact today. Driver’s added personal commentary pushes readers to consider the kind of nation reflected in these cases and the one they want for future generations.


This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Education doesn’t happen in a bubble. These five new books highlight important connections between education and history, business, entrepreneurship, safety and democracy.

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Two new picture books feature a cast of furry friends who delight in goofy wordplay. Young readers will learn about rhyming and the creative possibilities of language—that is, if they can stop giggling long enough.

If your good-bye idioms are limited to alligators and crocodiles, Take a Hike, Miles and Spike!, the hilarious picture book from the creative duo behind the equally funny Give Me Back My Book!, will expand your rolodex of farewell phrases. As hounds Miles and Spike walk past all sorts of woodland and farm animals, they bid such rhyming departures as “Take care, Grizzly Bear!” and “Peace out, Rainbow Trout!” But the digitally enhanced, comic-like illustrations set against vibrant colors reveal that these canine companions are not as friendly as their words suggest. Instead, they help themselves to logs from the moose’s forest, corn from the crow’s pasture and flowers from the butterfly’s garden, cramming them all into their backpacks.

When the dogs, thirsty from trying to carry the now heavy packs, try to claim a water source for their own, the other animals decide that they have had enough: “Take a hike, Miles and Spike,” they yell. Miles and Spike realize their mistakes and return the pillaged items, hoping to make amends and regain the trust of their friends. They invite the other animals to join in their excursion, resulting in more amusing rhymes from “Want to go, Buffalo?” to “Join the fun, everyone!” Miles and Spike prove that learning manners can be enjoyable.

Who doesn’t like a good knock-knock joke? Bear is in his comfy pajamas under a warm quilt, and he’s ready for bed. Right when he’s about to fall asleep, he hears a loud knock, or rather a “KNOCK KNOCK” at the door. After Bear asks who’s there, he hears that it’s Justin. Of course, the groggy Bear wonders, “Justin who?” It’s a fox carrying a large stack of firewood who’s “Justin the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by!” Soon there are more knocks—and more puns—as birds arrive with streamers, a raccoon shows up with a pot of soup and other woodland friends come bearing cupcakes, balloons and hot chocolate.

Even more entertaining than author Tammi Sauer’s wordplay in Knock Knock are the colorful and comical illustrations from Guy Francis that depict the adorable animals with animated features. While the woodland creatures happily take over Bear’s home, his mounting annoyance and sleepiness are evident. With clues in the illustrations, young readers will understand the jokes and recognize that the animals’ preparations are for a surprise hibernation party for Bear long before the character does. And as the friends tuck Bear into his bed for the winter, observant children will also notice fun details like a Goldilocks bedtime story. When the season turns to spring, it’s Bear who has the last laugh. Awake with renewed energy, he hurriedly sets out to visit his friends, giving a knock—or rather a “KNOCK KNOCK”—on their doors. This amusing picture book is for readers who can grin and bare a clever pun.

Two new picture books feature a cast of furry friends who delight in goofy wordplay. Young readers will learn about rhyming and the creative possibilities of language—that is, if they can stop giggling long enough to articulate the lessons.

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