Cursive could be mandatory in Ohio schools again

Landen Stafford, a junior studying English, writes in cursive. He learned how to write cursive in grade school but only started consistently using it in college to take notes more quickly. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Emma Howells)

Ohio elementary students may soon be dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s during cursive lessons — by law.

House Bill 58 would require Ohio schools to ensure students learn print by third grade and develop legible cursive by fifth grade. The bill was proposed by state Reps. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, and Marilyn Slaby, R-Copley, and has since gained traction with 13 cosponsors.

“We live in a society where you have to have a signature,” Slaby, a former educator, said. “You don’t print a signature. You write a signature (in cursive). … It takes a heck of a lot longer to print things than it does to cursive-write them.”

The bill was referred to the house Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday. Following the required three committee hearings, the entire House will vote and it will move to the Senate. If both chambers approve the bill, it goes to Gov. John Kasich to be.

A similar bill was introduced in 2015, but it did not pass.

Ohio does not mandate schools teach cursive. Although it is included in the model curriculum, some schools have opted to drop cursive lessons and focus on keyboard typing.

Athens City Schools does not require cursive instruction, but the schools’ administration does encourage it, Tom Parsons, the director of curriculum and development, said.

“We currently don’t use a standardized system,” Parsons said. “We’ve put information in people’s hands regarding the positive benefits of teaching cursive, however, we do understand that the standards currently do not require the teaching of cursive, so we follow Ohio law on that.”

Slaby said cursive and writing is still a vital motor skill for students to have because not all children have access to computers.

“There are some schools who do not have computer rooms yet and students financially don’t have any at home,” Slaby said. “You cannot just throw everybody together and say, ‘They don’t need this.’ Maybe those students don’t, but there are some who do.”

Athens City Schools has a variety of computer classes with a focus on keyboard skills, and the district is adding more, Parsons said, but cursive should still be emphasized.

“We have good evidence that it increases the communications between different parts of the brain,” Parsons said. “It helps with the acquisition of language. It improves the learning to read process. It certainly increases eye-hand coordination. It causes greater retention of information.”

Sarah Gossett, a sophomore studying early childhood education, did not learn cursive in grade school. She only knows how to write her name in cursive. As a prospective teacher, she said she is in support of the bill, even if she did not learn the skill herself.

“Cursive is great,” Gossett said. “It’s a faster way to write. … There’s always time to learn typing and even print first.”


 Originally published for The Post on Feb. 23, 2017.

Ohio politicians support DeVos as secretary of education

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as secretary of education raises concerns about her policy positions.

Ohio politicians backing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received campaign funds from her family, raising questions from Ohio University education students.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was among the 50 senators to cast their vote to confirm DeVos as secretary of education. The historic motion made by Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie secured DeVos’ position.

DeVos’ confirmation appeared controversial to some, including Sarah Gossett, a sophomore studying early childhood education. DeVos financially backed many of the senators who voted for her, including Portman. The DeVos family donated $51,000 to Portman’s campaign, according to a Federal Election Commission report.

“It doesn’t look good,” Gossett said. “If you’re going to throw support behind someone who’s given you money, it’s going to look bad to the public.”

Gov. John Kasich also backed DeVos in a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s education and health committee, which voted on her nomination.

“I believe Betsy DeVos has the potential to usher in an era of real and meaningful education reforms in our country,” he wrote in the letter.

DeVos donated $2,700 to Kasich, and her husband, Dick DeVos Jr., gave him $5,400.

“Their decision was made more on the fact that they should support her for giving them money rather than what the people in their state want,” Cathey Graff, a junior studying middle childhood education, said.

Kasich’s press secretary declined to comment.

Much of the controversy surrounding DeVos centers on her support of charter schools, institutions started by individuals or companies funded by state money.

“Betsy DeVos has had privatized education her entire life,” Gossett said. “She has never interacted with the public school system. A lot of times, people who are brought up in the privatized area, they look at public schools and have the idea that they’re places where nothing gets done, where really there are huge gains being made every day in public schools.”

Kasich is also a proponent of charter schools and actively lobbies for student choice in what school they attend. The movement is a private sector approach to education in which teachers, parents or community groups can create schools backed by state funding.

In his letter, Kasich praised DeVos as a “champion of school vouchers and charter schools” and lauded her as someone who will reduce federal intervention in education.

“Kasich has always been a proponent of charter schools,” Gossett said. “It’s kind of disheartening that a member of public service is not in favor of public education.”

Charter schools are good in theory, Gossett said, but they have many flaws. In 2015, more than $1 billion was granted annually to charter schools in Ohio, serving about 120,000 students at 350 charter schools, despite many charter schools’ failures and closures.

Nearly a third of Ohio’s 65 charter school sponsors could go out of business after flunking ratings by the Department of Education in October, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

As a future educator, Graff said she is worried about what DeVos might do as secretary of education.

“I am worried because she talked about … a lot of decisions for teachers,” she said. “She’s going to be one of those supporters for hurting the teachers themselves and schools and not support them and give them the benefits they need.”


Originally published for The Post on Feb. 17, 2017.

Schmidt hopes to unseat incumbents in upcoming school board election

Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor

On Tuesday, November 3, voters will select the candidates that will fill the two open seats on the Mason City Schools Board of Education. Campaigning for these spots are incumbents Kevin Wise and Courtney Allen, as well as community member Erin Schmidt. Of these three candidates on the poll this election, voters can choose two to represent the district. The elected officials will serve on the Board for four years.

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Courtney Allen, incumbent School Board President, hopes to continue to have a say in big decisions. Photo contributed by Courtney Allen.

According to Allen, incumbent Board President, being a current member running for re-election has both its advantages and disadvantages.

“I feel the district has faced some tough challenges during my first term,” Allen said. “The Board made some difficult decisions and worked hard to overcome those challenges and move the district in a positive direction. I feel we have been very successful which may provide an advantage. With any big decision, however, you’re going to have people who agree and people who disagree, which can convert into an advantage or a disadvantage, respectfully, when it comes time for re-election.”

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School board candidate Erin Schmidt hopes to gain a position on the Mason City School Board. Photo contributed by Erin Schmidt.

Schmidt said she thinks that introducing herself as a fresh face running for Board could work in her favor towards winning the election.

“I feel at an advantage running against two incumbents,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes being the new name and face garners more attention because people want to see what you are about…I also think many residents of the school district feel it is time for a change.”

According to Schmidt, her desire to run for the Board of Education stemmed from volunteering in her children’s classrooms and witnessing firsthand the problems students and teachers face on a daily basis.

“In the last couple of years, I have seen an increase in the stresses placed on classroom teachers in the form of testing mandates and unfair evaluation measures,” Schmidt said. “Those stresses affect you as students.  My interest in running for a Board seat began with a desire to be a voice for Mason’s amazing teachers and, in turn, a voice for the students.”

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Kevin Wise, incumbent board member, hopes to continue to represent the board. Photo contributed by Kevin Wise.

The three candidates were in agreement that state legislations and mandates, such as funding and standardized testing, were at the forefront of the issues currently facing the district. Kevin Wise, incumbent Board member since 2002, said he hopes to address these government regulations in Mason.

“Federal and State mandates are putting more and more pressure on school districts and Mason is no different,” Wise said. “I want to assure Mason remains able to defend against these intrusions and flexible enough to navigate all of the changes.”

The three candidates said they feel a pull towards the Board of Education because of their children’s involvement in Mason schools. According to incumbent Board President Courtney Allen, the board allows her to actively make changes to benefit all students, and in turn, her own children.

“My family is very important to me, as is the school district and community we live in,” Allen said. “I firmly believe that our school district is a great source of pride and plays a major role in the strength of our community. With my 3 most prized possessions–my children–all in the Mason School District, and my family being vested members of the community, the School Board continues to be a perfect opportunity for me to utilize my skills and passion to make a difference.”

Ultimately, the goal of any candidate that is elected is to represent and be an advocate for the students, teachers, and district as a whole, according to Allen.

“As a Board, our goal is to support and protect what makes Mason special and strong,” Allen said. “I want the Board to continue to show good financial stewardship, while prioritizing the educational needs of the students…The most rewarding part about being on the School Board is definitely seeing the successes of the students, the staff, and the district.”


Contracts and compromises

Mason Education Association and School Board reach agreement over contracts after turbulent summer relationship

Abbey Marshall | Staff Writer

After months of negotiation, the Mason City Schools Board of Education and the Mason Education Association came to a compromise regarding teacher contracts.

At the school board meeting on February 10, the Board announced a two percent teacher raise on a base salary, as well as a $1,000 stipend into employees’ health care savings accounts. In this one-year agreement, everything from their previous contract remained the same.

After a rocky relationship between the School Board and the MEA this past summer, MEA Vice President Maria Mueller said she believes the contract resolution is the first step in the right direction.

“The previous contract was a struggle,” Mueller said. “It is, by definition, a negotiation. You have different perspectives on how things should work, so that was a significant struggle…Certainly, (there were) concerns about the way things were pretty antagonistic last time…We spent some days figuring it out and talking it through and people on both sides were willing to give it a try and were willing to have a good conversation and a direct conversation about the issues at hand and about what were the needs and how could they best be suited. It was nice that by the end, it was a real group agreement…I think it’s definitely, clearly moving in the right direction.”

According to School Board President Courtney Allen, the MEA and School Board agreed to go into a one-year contract rather than a three-year contract to allow decisions regarding health care to be made.

“The reason we went into a one-year agreement after what is typically looked at to be a three-year agreement is because there’s a health care committee and there’s a lot of work being done…” Allen said. “There needs to be changes made to the health care here, but it’s taking time and they need additional time to make the right decisions there, so the agreement was a one-year and allow that work to continue to happen.”

Through negotiations last year, a sub-committee was created in order to collaboratively assess health care needs within the district, Mueller said.

“The committee (includes) people from the Board, naturally teachers, but then other people representing the other areas of employment here like bus drivers or custodians, that kind of thing,” Mueller said. “All the various groups of people are represented and that committee’s job is to examine health care…First, they’re assessing where are we at, and then okay, how might we improve this…They will come up with some ideas or some proposals and when we renegotiate the contract, we can commit to an idea for a longer term.”

Contracts and compromises

According to Mueller, the Board exceeded teacher expectations in their decision to contribute a stipend to health care savings.

“This year, the Board, once again, made a tremendous gesture to say, ‘We do value you. We want to have a great relationship. We want, truly, for the Mason schools to continue to be phenomenal and we want to be a team with this,’” Mueller said. “They actually then, this time, actually increased this stipend to $1,000, which once again, was not something we had even asked for. It was nice for them to take their own initiative to express that sentiment to us…It wasn’t really about the $200 increase, it was about taking the initiative that I think that has gone so far in helping to rebuild (our relationship). It was an awesome gesture of respect.”

Allen said she is hopeful for further collaboration with the MEA in order to accomplish other goals, beyond the topic of teacher contracts.

“We’re also addressing together, as a whole public school, teacher advocacy efforts out there,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of legislation and a lot of stuff going on in general for public education, so that’s also a collaborative effort…We have administrators, we have Board members and we have MEA teachers that are a part of that effort so we’re working collaboratively on that too.”

Mueller said she anticipates a favorable relationship between the MEA and the School Board in the future.

“I can’t emphasize enough the positive ripple effect I think will come from this negotiation,” Mueller said.


Lunch landfill

Mandated meal requirements taking a toll on cafeteria food waste

Abbey Marshall | Staff Writer

IMG_4151Photo by Photo Editor Madison Krell

Students are biting off more than they can chew.

According to a study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, around 24 percent of the total trash in schools comes from food waste. It’s the number one contributor.

Food waste has always been a problem in lunch rooms, but some of the blame can be placed upon the regulations mandated by national nutrition programs, according to junior Carrie Lipps.

“Most of what people throw away, as much as I hate to say it, is the healthy stuff because that’s what we have to get,” Lipps said. “(Not all) kids like carrots. I’m not saying that they should give us Pop-Tarts and make that a requirement, but kids would rather have Pop-Tarts than carrots.”

Child Nutrition Supervisor Tamara Earl pointed out that students can’t blame the manufacturers or those who cook cafeteria food; these changes are nationwide.

“The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act contained a lot more advancement, criteria, and standards largely resulting from the increase of obesity among children in this country,” Earl said. “The statistics (in 2010, when the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was put into place), were saying that one in three children were obese and that there had been an increase in diseases such as diabetes and high-blood pressure.”

Since these changes have gone into place, there has been a four and a half percent decrease in school lunch sales. This can most likely be attributed to the dislike of the fruits and vegetables that students must put on their tray in order to make their lunch a meal, according to Earl.

“We’ve had some good conversations with students and many are challenged to like fruits and vegetables,” Earl said. “Research does show that if you can provide incentives or education, you can often help that challenge of students eating fruits and vegetables and I think our goal has been to get in front of the students to help them understand what it’s about.”

According to junior Cassidee Cavazos, there are many factors to students wasting their food, including the time restraint within the lunch period.

“I don’t feel like we have enough time at lunch to fully eat all our food,” Cavazos said. “I don’t like eating fast.”

For the student who has to take a fruit or vegetable but doesn’t want to, they’ll most likely end up tossing it. The student has a responsibility to not do this in order to reduce food waste, according to Earl.

“Food waste is one of the most challenging topics of what we do,” Earl said. “I do feel the individual selecting the food has the responsibility to not waste. I also feel that some of the waste we see is a reflection of people’s habits.”

Nonetheless, the school district must do their part as well to educate and put out the very best product they can. According to Earl, it must be a collaboration between students and the nutrition department.

“What can I do on my end about it?” Earl said. “That’s one reason why we try to do a lot with the nutrition education hoping that people can understand the value of a fruit or a vegetable with  a meal and that it has a payoff with our health. I would assume that’s probably the item people target the most when they think of waste. Students are offered two fruits and two vegetables and we ask that you take one to make your lunch a meal. We try very hard to offer a lot of fresh choices and a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in the sincere hope that everybody can find one that they can eat at least half of. It’s quite the challenge.”

In order for this union of students and the nutrition department to take place, Earl proposed that a committee is formed.

“Basically (we want) a committee of students that (would) meet regularly,” Earl said. “I need to have students give me feedback on what is currently happening in the lunchroom and where their challenges are, likes and dislikes, but I also need support in sampling new products. I would say to you in this district I do have some great relationships with our manufacturers…and so it’d be a great opportunity for me to bring some of those things to students and find out new directions we could go in.”

With the district and the students working together, Earl said she is hopeful to decrease the amount of food waste in the cafeteria.

“In my opinion, the food waste has two aspects,” Earl said. “It has my responsibility to make sure I’m putting out the very best I can and it’s also the responsibility of the individual taking it to do everything they can to eat it.”


We don’t give teachers enough credit

When we were in kindergarten, we brought our teachers shiny apples and looked up to them adoringly. In third grade, we couldn’t wait to show them what we brought to show-and-tell. In fifth grade, we despised how they’d yell at us and force us to sign the dreaded book of behavior, but we still respected them. And now, as high schoolers, we complain about the workload they pile on us and how “unfair” they are.

Let me ask you, what changed between kindergarten and now? Did the teachers suddenly evolve into nit-picky monsters obsessed with ruining teenagers’ lives? Or did we change?

As the offspring and grandchild of teachers, I can testify to all the horrendous stories I’ve been told. My mom teaches first grade to little children who worship her, while my dad teaches high school to adolescents just like you and me. The difference between the stories I hear are night and day.

During the elementary school years, we wobbled into school in our Crocs with a Hello Kitty tin lunchbox in hand, wide-eyed and naive about the world. Our paint-covered stubby fingers would swirl across a bright white sheet of paper for our beaming proud parents to hang on our refrigerator. When it was nap time, we would refuse to sleep, still hyper from the juice pouches we chugged down during snack time. We would use our loud mouths to declare any thought we had to the classroom. Our teacher became our idol; a superhero to look up to and adore. She was the coolest lady who taught us the alphabet and multiplication charts.

In high school, our eyelids slip shut during a monotone lecture, wondering when the teachers will ever stop droning about osmosis, quadratics, or the Battle of 1812. Our hands sketch a doodle in the corner of our loose-leaf paper where we should be taking notes. We would give anything to curl up into those cots we refused to nap in as kids. Throughout the day, we calculate the amount of homework we have and groan every time a new assignment is announced. We complain how irritating a class to our friends in the school cafeteria.

But is it really the teacher’s fault?

Let me tell you, their job is no walk in the park. While we grumble about homework, they never fuss to us about all the grading they have to accomplish that evening. All I see my parents do as I unwind on the couch after school is grade papers: worksheet after test after assignment. They set their alarm for the same time as us, yet they can’t be caught sleeping during class. They have the same workload as us but never fail to hand back a test in a timely fashion. Their sleeping schedule is as hectic and sleep deprived as ours. They get as excited for snow days and summer break as we do.

So are we really that different from them?

Throughout the course of a regular school day at Mason High School, we have to communicate with and learn from only five teachers a day who are dedicated to give us the best education possible. They chose this career for a reason; they like kids and they’re passionate about what they teach. But throughout the course of their day, they have to deal with four classes jam-packed with 30 students. Some are just as excited about the subject as the teachers are, but others could care less. Imagine having to deal with a kid smeared with a bad attitude every day. It can’t be easy. I don’t think teachers get enough credit for all the things students put them through.

Throughout this article, I keep using the terms “them” and “us”. But it shouldn’t be a “them” and “us” concept. We all try our hardest in the school, so why can’t the students and teachers come together and form a tightly-woven unit of people working together?

Just be open-minded. We want to listen to a boring lesson as much as they want to teach it, so be cooperative and really listen. You may learn something new that intrigues you. Put in as much effort as they do. You might notice that a teacher is making an impact on your life like a handprint in drying cement. My third grade teacher inspired me to become a writer, and that has carried over for the rest of my life. Writing is a passion I discovered thanks to her.

So next time you open your mouth to badmouth a teacher, think. We’re not so different after all.

Because who knows? Someday you could be a teacher wanting the same respect from your students.