Extra Credit

Back-to-school photos: Part Two

Loraly and Aiden Pozzi sport new back-to-school outfits. Loraly and Aiden attend preschool and kindergarten at Clendenin Elementary.
Loraly and Aiden Pozzi sport new outfits for their first day of school at Clendenin Elementary.

Everyone likes a sequel. Let’s hope this one is more “Empire Strikes Back” than “Jaws: The Revenge.”

Sequels capitalize on the success of a first installment. In this instance, the Kanawha County back-to-school photos the Daily Mail received last week were so positively received that we want to extend it another week to include Putnam County, which started today.

So, let’s go over how you can submit your back-to-school photos to the Daily Mail.

It’s simple. You can share your photos with the Charleston Daily Mail on Facebook (be sure to click “Like” while you’re there), you can tweet them to @charleywest on Twitter or you can send them to @charleywestv on Instagram. You also can email them to sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com.

Please include names, ages, grade level and the school your child attends.

If you live in another county and would like to participate as well, please indicate which county you live in and when the first day of school is.

Like I said last week, the start of school is an exciting time, so don’t let that enthusiasm wane over the course of the year. Have a great school year Putnam County!

Share your back-to-school photos with the Daily Mail

Today is the first day of school for Kanawha County, and it’s bound to be an exciting year.

First, we have the opening of the new Edgewood Elementary School, which has been termed a school of the future. Employed with progressive, project-based learning, the entire county is watching and hoping this new direction will help students excel in one of the lowest-performing districts.

There’s also the pending rollout of the county’s iPad program. Teachers and principals received their devices this summer and were given the opportunity to attend training seminars to get them ready to employ technology in the classroom. Students won’t get their iPads until later in October, but school officials are already excited about the changes they are seeing.

Lastly, there are policy changes regarding the school calendar. This is the first year that the Board of Education can schedule make-up days after the scheduled last-day-of-school if the county fails to meet the mandated 180 days of in-school instruction. The new policy allows the board to schedule class until June 30. While it is unlikely to happen, the board may also cancel spring break if the required days can’t be made up in June.

With all the changes set to come this year, it’s easy to lose focus on what’s most important — the students. So, we at the Daily Mail are asking you to share your back-to-school photos with us so we can catalog them here for everyone else to see.

Students, are you happy to be reunited with friends? Snap a picture and send it our way. Parents, are you especially proud of the school supplies you were able to get for an insanely good deal? That’s a picture we want to see.

Ours is the culture where there’s a themed selfie for each day of the week. So, I’m sure you and your children have back-to-school photos on your phone that you are dying to share but not sure how best to do that.

So, here’s what you can do. Like the Charleston Daily Mail on Facebook and send us your back-to-school photos. If you have Twitter,  tweet them to @charleywest or @wvschools. You say you’ve graduated from text-based social media and prefer the uninhibitedness of Instagram? Tag @charleywestv in your post. Or, if you’re old-school like me and feel more comfortable using email, you can send them to sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com. Please include names, ages, grade level and the school your child attends.

The first day of school is always an exciting time, but let’s keep that level of enthusiasm going throughout the rest of the year.

Good luck students, and have a great school year Kanawha County!

Free speech rights for college students at risk

While a company imposes its owner’s beliefs on employees because our courts say corporations are people with First Amendment rights, there is debate whether those same rights should be extended to a college student who can vote and fight (and die, I might add) for their country.

This may sound shocking to some, but censorship on college campuses is a very real thing, and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, an independent federal agency tasked with fighting for Americans’ Constitutionally given rights, has recently issued startling statements that indicate its leader thinks free speech isn’t something a college student is even entitled to.

In a July briefing on sexual harassment claims and campus speech codes, Civil Rights Commissioner Michael Yaki had this to say:

“Certain factors in how the juvenile or adolescent or young adult brain processes information is vastly different from the way that we adults do.

So, when we sit back and talk about what is right or wrong in terms of First Amendment jurisprudence from a reasonable person’s standpoint, we are really not looking into the same referential viewpoint of these people, of an adolescent or young adult, including those in universities…

…and because of that, and because of the unique nature of a university campus setting, I think that there are very good and compelling reasons why broader policies and prohibitions on conduct in activities, and in some instances speech, are acceptable on a college campus level that might not be acceptable, say, in an adult work environment or in an adult situation.”

To be fair, much of what Yaki spoke about was in relation to supporting codes that ban speech and symbolic expression perceived to be conveying a racist or sexist message.

Now, there is no room for hate or bigotry in the public sphere, but I have two problems with what Yaki’s proposes, and you should too. First: Who is going to determine what makes a message racist or sexist? Second: Past court decisions have already addressed this issue and have upheld the rule that such restrictions on college students are patently unconstitutional.

The law of the land is that students do not have to forfeit their First Amendment rights when they step foot on campus, even when involved in racially and sexually offensive fraternal activities, but I wouldn’t expect Yaki to care about the law considering he violated it 70 times in San Francisco.

More troubling than that is Yaki’s reasoning for limiting the free speech rights of college students. His comments indicate he believes college students aren’t mentally developed enough to have the same rights as an adult, a stark contrast of the Supreme Court’s opinion that the college campus is a “vital center for the nation’s intellectual life.”

While there are cognizant differences between younger and older adults, that hardly justifies stripping students of their rights when they are perfectly able to fight and die for their country whether voluntarily or by draft. Still, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has found that 65 percent of liberal arts colleges have speech codes that violate the First Amendment.

Yaki and the Civil Rights Commission are treading a slippery slope. How long until they and others in power turn to other portions of the population they deem mentally incapable of having the right to speak their mind?

A look at West Virginia’s new superintendent


Decision or indecision?


Pay as you earn, but you still have to pay

President Barack Obama’s expansion of the “Pay As You Earn” program on Monday may have some college goers ready to pump their firsts in victory, but that excitement should be tempered because there’s a hidden gun: You still have to pay. Well, at least for 20 years.

By signing a memorandum to extend such benefits to those who borrowed from the federal government before 2007, the president is certainly helping low-income 20- and 30-year olds who are struggling to pay off their loans in the standard 10-year term.

As part of the plan, monthly payments can be reduced to 10 percent of a person’s income — which is reasonable — but paying less each month means it will take longer to pay off the loan. After 20 years, the remaining balance is altogether forgiven.

It’s bound to help millions of Americans, but it fails to address the underlying problem plaguing higher education: The cost of college has tripled in the past 30 years, causing most students to wager their entire futures on the hopes that a college education will land them a good job.

College tuition has skyrocketed since the 1970s. So has student debt, which now tops $1 trillion.

While 1,000,000,000,000 may not look like much on a computer screen, it’s about 10 times the amount of people who have ever lived on earth. Think about that for a minute.

West Virginians are not immune to loan debt even though college comes relatively cheap for in-state students compared to other states. Still, more than 50 percent of graduates are burdened with at least $26,000 in loan debt.

Those numbers aren’t likely to change anytime soon. According to the latest data compiled by the state Higher Education Policy Commission, almost 53 percent of students attending four-year public institutions in West Virginia have loans. A shade over 11 percent of those students default on their loans.

For a state with a shaky economy and limited job prospects for graduates, lingering college debt is enough to kill any prospect of achieving the American dream in the Mountain State.

College is still worth the investment though, as those who earn a degree on average earn $20,000 more each year than those who only have a high school diploma.

But, at what cost?

Paying as you go may help millions finally pay off their debt, but rethinking higher education at a federal and local level may be the only way to prevent future students from ever entering it.

Handwriting is key to education

cursive2It’s been nearly two decades, but I remember that dreaded part of the school day when the teacher asked me and my fellow classmates to take our pencils out for the daily penmanship assignment.

As I frivolously drew a chain of circles and lines at the top of the page — this was a warm-up we were required to do without question — the only thought on my mind was how much I hated writing in cursive.

Satisfaction would have come to 6-year-old me if he could have traveled to the future a la Marty McFly to see the lack of cursive writing in adult world. But, looking back, I mourn the “deathblow” the computer keyboard has dealt cursive and handwriting in general.

Unaware to my younger self, writing by hand triggers neural circuits in the brain that are vital to cognitive development and the retention of information. This is why we remember more when we take notes by hand (pay attention college students).

It might be quicker to take notes on a computer, but studies show areas of the brain linked with memory are not as active when we type — if they are active at all.

In a New York Times article about what is lost by forsaking handwriting, writer Maria Konnikova reports that students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard, not because a computer might distract the student but because writing by hand allows them to better process the information and commit it to memory.

What does this mean for the future of education where Common Core standards do away with penmanship and as more and more schools favor tablets over paper and pencil?

Well, education does need to adapt to the new digital world we live in as more archaic learning methods are replaced — there’s no bypassing that — but, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater because writing by hand is still needed even if it means it’s taught at home instead of in the classroom.

National Spelling Bee finals

Varun Kukkillaya, the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s sponsored contestant in the National Spelling Bee, missed the cut for today’s final rounds by a mere single point. He spelled his two words correctly onstage but his score on a written teste was not enough to advance.

West Virginia’s other spellers — George Andrew Triplett of ElkinsRaimah Hossain of Morgantown and  Lillian Taylor Bischof of Wheeling, likewise did not move on to the final rounds.

Nevertheless, spelling bees are fun. So, herein is continuing coverage, brought to you by the Daily Mail’s education writer, Samuel Speciale.

Follow along for the National Spelling Bee

Follow along for updates from the National Spelling Bee.

John Adams Middle School seventh grader Varun Kukkillaya is competing in the bee as the Gazette-Mail’s representative. Cheer for Varun as he goes through the preliminary rounds and then competes on the national stage.

Arts education is integral to student achievement

Justin Skidmore and Olivia Morris rehearse a scene from “Voices of the Mountain,” a collection of one-act skits written by Van Junior and Senior High School students. This skit is called “The Darkness 1,” written by Skylar Stark. It also features actors Mariah Plante and Tyler Eldridge.
Justin Skidmore and Olivia Morris rehearse a scene from “Voices of the Mountain,” a collection of one-act skits written by Van Junior and Senior High School students.

When I first came to the Daily Mail in February, all news on the education front involved lingering problems from the water crisis at schools and the closing of Kawnaha County’s three public day cares.

To tell you the truth, it was kind of depressing.

Then, later in March, I was asked to write an advance for a collection of one-act plays reacting to the water crisis written by high school students from Van Junior and Senior High School.

Not only were these plays about complex issues most of us are still trying to figure out, they were all from the perspective of school-aged kids expressing pain and frustration with a helpless situation they could do nothing about.

As someone who went to a private school without any real arts education, I feel like I missed out, but I have found art provides a much-needed outlet for young people — sometimes an escape.

Not only is art a means for people to express themselves, it is an integral part of receiving a well-rounded education.

Studies have shown that the arts are associated with gains in math, reading, critical thinking and communication skills as well as improvements to motivation, concentration and confidence.

“Today’s generation is a generation of cellphone kids,” said Leah Turley, founder of the Appalachian Artists Collective. “Their ability to speak is lessened because of a reliance on technology. I think theater is the answer to that.”

For some kids, the arts can help them communicate. For less-fortunate kids, it enriches their lives with cultural experience and puts them on the same level as children of affluent or aspiring parents who expose them to arts at an early age.

Art also is something that brings people together, something I think is desperately needed in a culture that seems to give too much focus to the things that divide.

Thankfully, their is push from local, state and federal education officials to encourage the incorporation of arts in schools.