Palm Beach County boy’s service dog gets own yearbook photo

 

A boy and his dog  have landed in the pages of Frontier Elementary’s yearbook, and mom is so thrilled she’s giving the Palm Beach County school a shout-out on Facebook.

Ethan Amara sits in a blue polo, grinning, every hair in place. His service dog, Ketch, a yellow Labrador retriever, sits one school photo away, blue harness in place, also grinning, tongue out.

“You want to know how I know that my son goes to the BEST school in the Palm Beach County? I picked up his yearbook yesterday and this is what I see! I’m so very thankful for everything that Frontier Elementary School does for my son and his service dog. The staff embraced them from the minute they stepped foot (and paw) on the campus and for that I’m truly indebted to them,” reads the post by Christina Amara and shared on the school district’s website. She goes on to say the boy’s last school wasn’t as welcoming, but now he’s found one that is “heaven sent and it’s where we were meant to be!”

Ketch has been with Ethan for two years, and his super power? Smelling when Ethan’s blood sugar is too high or too low – something he can sniff out from a football field away, says mom Christina Amara.

Ethan, 8, was diagnosed a few years back with type 1 diabetes, sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes. This is the kind of diabetes that happens when your immune system destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin – not the stuff of bad diets.

Ketch was born in California and trained from very young to know exactly Ethan’s scent.

He arrived while Ethan was in the middle of his kindergarten year at another Palm Beach County school that Amara isn’t calling out by name.

“From January to June, we had problem after problem with that school. If the principal could find a problem with that dog, he would,” Amara lamented. “Legally, yes, he was required to allow the dog, but he didn’t do anything else. He just made life difficult.”

Then they moved to Loxahatchee and changed schools.  And the family has never been happier.

“They’re the kind of principals that know the kids. I’ve never seen them in a bad mood ever,” Amara said.

This isn’t Ketch’s first appearance in the yearbook – he was at the end of yearbook last year, mom said. But this time Ketch’s  mug is right next to Ethan’s. Ketch even inherited the Amara name.

“The fact that they put his last name with the dog – Ketch Amara – Ethan thought that was just amazing.”

Frontier isn’t the only school to embrace a four-legged companion.

A Virginia High School also made the news this week. when Alpha, a black Labrador service dog appeared in the pages of Stafford High School alongside junior Andrew “AJ” Schalk, 16.

The teen has type 1 diabetes and the dog can tell when his blood sugar is getting too high or too low and alert his human 20 to 40 minutes before problems develop. “He has save my life multiple times already, by waking me up in the middle of the night to extremely low blood sugars, which are very dangerous,” Schalk told reporters.

 

 

 

 

54 percent of PBC 3 grade pass state reading test – and that’s an improvement

Palm Beach County’s third graders have made gains on Florida’s statewide reading exam, but they still aren’t passing at the rates of their peers across the state and almost half didn’t pass and will have to prove themselves in order to be promoted to fourth grade.

The school district landed a 54 percent passing rate on what is known as the Florida Standards Assessment of English language arts, a two point gain over last year that still leaves it short of the improved state average of 58 percent, according to data released Friday by the state’s Department of Education.

The test is a gatekeeper to fourth grade, and state officials said they released the scores early so that districts can make promotion decisions and plan summer camps for students who didn’t pass.

While the exam is the primary route to promotion, the state allows schools to consider other material when they decide a student’s fate.

Students can be promoted if a portfolio of their work indicates they are proficient enough to move on. They can also be promoted based on scores from other tests, including the computer-based diagnostics of iReady, a tool now used in classrooms across the county.

Of more than 130 elementary schools in the county, including charter schools, 16 had passing rates at or under 25 percent.  That includes four of seven traditional public elementary schools in the Glades communities and several other schools outside that region with high poverty rates.

Pahokee Elementary turned in the poorest performance in a district-run traditional school, with only 14 percent passing.  That’s down 20 percent from last year – the biggest drop in any school passing rate.

Click here to read our full report.

 

Fidget spinners banned in this PBC school. How ’bout yours?

This meme of this year’s fads is making the rounds with teachers.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Robert Avossa admitted that, yes, his children, ages 11 and 14, own fidget spinners.

Every teacher in the country is likely familiar with these pocket-sized gadgets which you can twirl between fingers – so familiar that already schools across the country have banned them. (By the calculations of Alexi Roy at spinnerlist.com, that includes 63 of the largest high schools in the country.)

And at least one industrious student has opened a change.org account in pursuit of reversing that ruling – 34 supporters so far.

 

Avossa said during this public admission – really a press conference about something else entirely – there’s no district-wide policy regarding spinners. That’s a decision left with principals.

But at least one school, Palm Beach Public, has lowered the boom. To paraphrase the email to parents Friday:  If your child owns one, keep it at home, please.

It’s not as if anyone needs an excuse to get in on the trend, but the spin on spinners has been that it helps people – people with anxiety or attention deficit disorder – focus.

That spin, however,  is dubious, Duke University professor and clinical psychologist Scott Kollins told NPR this week.

“I know there’s lots of similar toys, just like there’s lots of other games and products marketed toward individuals who have ADHD, and there’s basically no scientific evidence that those things work across the board,” Kollins said.

This bit of news has yet to put a dent in fidget demand – at least not at my house, or apparently, the superintendent’s.

Slime science: Why slime is like leftover pasta

Is slime a fading fad? Maybe. (Those fidget spinners look a lot less messy.) But the one thing slime has over spinners and bottle flipping, and whatever other fad you can thing of is its potential for a lesson in applied science.

So what is the science of slime, you ask?

Read how the slime thing is playing out in Palm Beach County here. 

Let’s just assume we all know that things in this world are made of teeny, tiny molecules. Glue is what’s called a linear polymer, it’s along molecule made up from a chain of smaller repeating units called monomers.

The folks at Museum of Science, Boston, can take it from here:

(Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

“A linear polymer is like fresh cooked pasta: each noodle is separate from the other and when you go to dump it out of the container, the pasta does not hold the container shape.”

Mix the pasta, or in this case, the glue, with Borax, a mineral made of monomers of sodium borate, and they interact.  More precisely, because you use water when you combine them, you get hydrogen bonding and the long chains turn into a matrix.

“A matrix polymer is like left over pasta: when you take it out of the container it has the shape of the container, with the noodles all stuck to each other.”

Slime even has a place in Florida’s educational standards. And not just in chemistry.

Hagfish (Getty Images)

Slime is a secret weapon for a lot of animals, including the hagfish, said Alexandra Laing, who works in Palm Beach County’s curriculum department.  The hagfish can secrete stringy proteins that turn into slime when they come in contact with seawater. Word is they can mix up buckets of the stuff in mere minutes.

“But it also relates to humans,” Laing said. “We make six cups of slime a day that coats the insides of our digestive system. It’s in the lining of our nose and mouth.”

Still, it seems plenty of parents are over it.

As educational as it may be, one Michael’s clerk confided, “I have a lot of parents who can’t wait for this fad to end.”

Count mom, Latoya Mills, among them.

“It clogged my sink and got into the finish of my sofa. I can’t keep Ziplock bags in stock. All my containers are gone. I have no containers. None,” Mills said.

Who knows what’s happening in the landfill with the discarded batches.

Maybe that’s the next science lesson.

RELATED:

Slime: How tweens make it, tape it and rake it in

Is it safe to use Borax for DIY slime?

The soothing sounds of Slime. ASMR anyone?

Why Avossa calls PBC a ‘donor’ county to state’s ed budget

When Superintendent Robert Avossa rails about how little Florida invests in education, he often talks about Palm Beach County being a “donor” school district.

Read about his objections to the state’s proposed budget here. 

What does that mean and why does this keep coming up?

First to the why.

For all those transplants to our state, district leaders want you to know the school district’s per student budget isn’t determined locally as it might be up north.

The district is countywide and though Palm Beach County is property rich – it has lots of value that generates lots of tax dollars – the state is responsible for determining how a majority of the school tax will be levied and what that money will be spent on.

Photo by Andy Frame

The how.

When it comes to a district’s operational budget, lawmakers in Tallahassee decide the base amount school districts will get per student to cover costs from text books to transportation, salaries and benefits, light bills and more. And from there it adds to that base for students who are disabled, or in exceptional poverty.

It also has a formula that is intended to deliver equity throughout the state’s counties – some very rural and property poor, and others not so much.

It does this by redistributing most of Florida school districts’ property tax revenue.

This is where the “donor” part comes in.

So, the state looks at Palm Beach County and says because the county can raise so much tax money locally, a larger portion of the money spent per student will come from local taxes. A smaller amount will come from the state.

A property-poor county, on the other hand would get more from the state.

Thus, the county is paying in more to the total  – but it is still being held to the state prescribed formula. Just because Palm Beach County has a larger wealth of property value, doesn’t mean it gets to spend more per student in its classrooms.

The county will get more per student than other counties based on the last budget. One reason, the cost of living – thus the cost of hiring teachers and running schools – is higher in Palm Beach County and the state’s formula chips in a bit more for that. Also, the county gets a bump when it has more special education students, whose education costs more and therefore draws more money from the state formula.

To be clear, this equalization across the state is just the general fund.

Capital budget is a different ballgame.

All districts can impose a district-wide tax for capital and keep that money. There is a state cap – a cap that was lowered during the recession in 2008-09.  Which prompted the need to find another source for capital projects, mostly school repairs but some replacements and 5 new schools. In November, voters approved a penny sales tax countywide, half of which goes to those projects.

Final note. 

Property values can make Palm Beach County look like a wealthy place. But not all of its students are. About 65 percent of the district’s students come from families poor enough to qualify for a free or discounted lunch from the federal government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choice, charters leave several PBC middle schools half empty

 

Dwindling enrollment at Odyssey Middle in Boynton Beach imperiled the school, and has now put it on a track to closure. But it isn’t the only school in the district that can’t fill even half its seats – and most of those schools are middle schools.

(See story on the school board meeting that is clearing path for Odyssey closure here. )

Why is that? 

One big reason: Parents of middle schoolers choose not to send them to their assigned schools and they make this choice more often than parents of elementary or high schools students, according to the district’s numbers.

Of 42,269  students in grades 6-8,  nearly one-third choose to attend a choice program at a school other than their home school or a charter school.

 

Here are three examples of how this plays out, with data supplied from the district’s boundaries department as of the February head count.

Carver Middle, Delray Beach

820 students attend the school built for 1,534

1,317 students live in the boundaries

175 of those attend charters; 448 attend another school in the district

113 come to Carver from outside the boundaries for reasons such as its magnet program or special education services

 

 

Congress Middle, Boynton Beach

Congress Middle

887 students attend the school built for 1,432

1,462 students live in its boundaries

428 of those attend charter schools; 328 attend another school in the district

159 students come to Congress from outside its boundaries

Crestwood Middle, Royal Palm Beach

750 students in a school build for 1,653

1,232 students live in its boundaries

229 students attend charter schools; 336 attend another school in the district.

 

The district is home to 33 middle schools. Others that are struggling to fill their desks: 

Bear Lakes Middle 49 percent of capacity

Carver 53 percent

Congress 62 percent

Crestwood 45 percent

John F. Kennedy 53 percent

Lake Shore Middle 47 percent

Odyssey 50 percent

Polo Park 59 percent

Roosevelt 64 percent

Are any middle schools full?

Ten are filled near to capacity (at least 95 percent)  and beyond, including: Bak MSOA, Boca Raton, Conniston, Don Estridge, Eagles Landing, Independence, Loggers Run, Omni and Western Pines.

What about high schools? 

All but two of the district’s 23 high schools are filled to at least 80 percent capacity – nine are beyond capacity.

 

 

 

 

These two PBC high schools were just named among the nation’s 100 best

Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach was ranked 53rd in an annual ranking of the nation’s top public high schools.

Suncoast High School and Dreyfoos School of the Arts have been named two of the nation’s top 100 public high schools in a new ranking by U.S. News and World Report.

The magazine ranked Suncoast 53rd in the nation and Dreyfoos 78th in the nation. The schools took ninth and tenth place in Florida, respectively.

Suncoast and Dreyfoos, two selective, application-only public schools, are regular presences on the closely watched annual ranking but tend to battle for the county’s top billing. In 2015, Dreyfoos edged out Suncoast to win 68th place nationally.

Overall, 12 Palm Beach County schools made it into U.S. News’ list of the nation’s top 2,000 public high schools. Of the 12, 10 are school district schools and two — G-Star School of the Arts and Inlet Grove High — are charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated.

The national magazine says its annual rankings weigh schools’ graduation rates and how their students perform on state reading and math exams, with adjustments made for the percentage of disadvantaged students each school serves. This year, the magazine gave greater weight to the extent to which schools offer students college-level courses and exams.

The nation’s best high school? According to U.S. News, it’s BASIS Scottsdale, a charter school in Arizona.

Florida’s best high school? The magazine says it’s Pine View School, a school for gifted students in Sarasota County.

Here they are in order of ranking:

Suncoast High, #53

Dreyfoos School of the Arts, #78

Boca Raton High, #566

Spanish River High, #766

Jupiter High, #902

West Boca Raton High, #1,089

Atlantic High, #1,122

Olympic Heights High, #1,142

G-Star School of the Arts, #1,255

Park Vista High, #1,334

Wellington High, #1,592

Inlet Grove High, #1,957

Update: Last of fall school boundary changes OK’d

Update: Boundary changes approved. 

Original post: The school board will get its last crack at changing boundaries for next school year at its meeting Wednesday night.

So far, the board has already approved moves that should relieve crowding at its most over- filled elementary: Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton. Now the board will move to address the situation at Forest Hill High school – a school so packed that at least 24 teachers don’t have their own classrooms.

It will also tackle two middle school changes that at least for next year involve all of about three students – yes three, not a typo.

With that, boundaries will be set for the fall, leaving two district-wide matters looming:

What can be done about crowding at almost every other high school?

When open enrollment was announced, more than one parent griped to see that only three high schools – two of them in the Glades – had enough room to take students from outside their typical boundaries.

Nine of 23 high schools are filled beyond capacity, five more are at 95 percent capacity or beyond.

What does the district do about its emptying middle schools? 

Eight of the county’s 33 middle schools have at least one third of their seats empty, as calculated by the state. Six are closer to half full: Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Carver in Delray Beach, Crestwood in Royal Palm Beach, John F. Kennedy in Riviera Beach, Lake Shore in Belle Glade and Odyssey in Boynton Beach.

The district has made some moves to address these matters. Most recently some of these middle schools received grant money to beef up choice offerings and attract more students.

Avossa visits Forest Hill HS on first day. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a plan that worked for Forest Hill High which was losing students until it opened an International Baccalaureate program and several other magnets.   

This fall, the school built for just over 1,830 students, welcomed more than 2,400.

The relief proposed will transfer an estimated 182 students off the rolls and send them to Palm Beach Lakes High – a campus considerably closer to their neighborhood which sits north of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

Paired with that move is one that aligns where students in the same neighborhood go to middle school. Instead of attending Conniston Middle which feeds to Forest Hill, the handful of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in this northern reach will instead go to Roosevelt Middle, where their classmates all move on to Palm Beach Lakes High.

Unlike the shuffle negotiated in Boca Raton, these moves in the West Palm Beach area have gone widely unopposed.

Some board members and panelists on the advisory boundary committee have expressed concern that the parents in the neighborhoods concerned may be poor, and may not have the time or the means to come to the meetings or launch large objections if they had any.

The final proposed boundary change involves shifting middle school assignments for neighborhoods in the town of Westlake where no homes have yet been built.