Archive for December, 2010

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 25, 2010

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction


REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

It is a tension on vivid display at Vishal’s school, Woodside High School, on a sprawling campus set against the forested hills of Silicon Valley. Here, as elsewhere, it is not uncommon for students to send hundreds of text messages a day or spend hours playing video games, and virtually everyone is on Facebook.

The principal, David Reilly, 37, a former musician who says he sympathizes when young people feel disenfranchised, is determined to engage these 21st-century students. He has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students, introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a multimedia center.

He pushed first period back an hour, to 9 a.m., because students were showing up bleary-eyed, at least in part because they were up late on their computers. Unchecked use of digital devices, he says, can create a culture in which students are addicted to the virtual world and lost in it.

“I am trying to take back their attention from their BlackBerrys and video games,” he says. “To a degree, I’m using technology to do it.”

The same tension surfaces in Vishal, whose ability to be distracted by computers is rivaled by his proficiency with them. At the beginning of his junior year, he discovered a passion for filmmaking and made a name for himself among friends and teachers with his storytelling in videos made with digital cameras and editing software.

He acts as his family’s tech-support expert, helping his father, Satendra, a lab manager, retrieve lost documents on the computer, and his mother, Indra, a security manager at the San Francisco airport, build her own Web site.

But he also plays video games 10 hours a week. He regularly sends Facebook status updates at 2 a.m., even on school nights, and has such a reputation for distributing links to videos that his best friend calls him a “YouTube bully.”

Several teachers call Vishal one of their brightest students, and they wonder why things are not adding up. Last semester, his grade point average was 2.3 after a D-plus in English and an F in Algebra II. He got an A in film critique.

“He’s a kid caught between two worlds,” said Mr. Reilly — one that is virtual and one with real-life demands.

Vishal, like his mother, says he lacks the self-control to favor schoolwork over the computer. She sat him down a few weeks before school started and told him that, while she respected his passion for film and his technical skills, he had to use them productively.

“This is the year,” she says she told him. “This is your senior year and you can’t afford not to focus.”

It was not always this way. As a child, Vishal had a tendency to procrastinate, but nothing like this. Something changed him.

Growing Up With Gadgets

When he was 3, Vishal moved with his parents and older brother to their current home, a three-bedroom house in the working-class section of Redwood City, a suburb in Silicon Valley that is more diverse than some of its elite neighbors.

Thin and quiet with a shy smile, Vishal passed the admissions test for a prestigious public elementary and middle school. Until sixth grade, he focused on homework, regularly going to the house of a good friend to study with him.

But Vishal and his family say two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer. He became increasingly engrossed in games and surfing the Internet, finding an easy outlet for what he describes as an inclination to procrastinate.

“I realized there were choices,” Vishal recalls. “Homework wasn’t the only option.”

Several recent studies show that young people tend to use home computers for entertainment, not learning, and that this can hurt school performance, particularly in low-income families. Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University who led some of the research, said that when adults were not supervising computer use, children “are left to their own devices, and the impetus isn’t to do homework but play around.”

Research also shows that students often juggle homework and entertainment. The Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this year that half of students from 8 to 18 are using the Internet, watching TV or using some other form of media either “most” (31 percent) or “some” (25 percent) of the time that they are doing homework.

At Woodside, as elsewhere, students’ use of technology is not uniform. Mr. Reilly, the principal, says their choices tend to reflect their personalities. Social butterflies tend to be heavy texters and Facebook users. Students who are less social might escape into games, while drifters or those prone to procrastination, like Vishal, might surf the Web or watch videos.

The technology has created on campuses a new set of social types — not the thespian and the jock but the texter and gamer, Facebook addict and YouTube potato.

“The technology amplifies whoever you are,” Mr. Reilly says.

For some, the amplification is intense. Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.

Most of the exchanges are little more than quick greetings, but they can get more in-depth, like “if someone tells you about a drama going on with someone,” Allison said. “I can text one person while talking on the phone to someone else.”

But this proficiency comes at a cost: she blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report.

“I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”

Some shyer students do not socialize through technology — they recede into it. Ramon Ochoa-Lopez, 14, an introvert, plays six hours of video games on weekdays and more on weekends, leaving homework to be done in the bathroom before school.

Escaping into games can also salve teenagers’ age-old desire for some control in their chaotic lives. “It’s a way for me to separate myself,” Ramon says. “If there’s an argument between my mom and one of my brothers, I’ll just go to my room and start playing video games and escape.”

With powerful new cellphones, the interactive experience can go everywhere. Between classes at Woodside or at lunch, when use of personal devices is permitted, students gather in clusters, sometimes chatting face to face, sometimes half-involved in a conversation while texting someone across the teeming quad. Others sit alone, watching a video, listening to music or updating Facebook.

Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.

Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit.

“If you’re not on top of technology, you’re not going to be on top of the world,” said John McMullen, 56, a retired criminal investigator whose son, Sean, is one of five friends in the group Vishal joins for lunch each day.

Sean’s favorite medium is video games; he plays for four hours after school and twice that on weekends. He was playing more but found his habit pulling his grade point average below 3.2, the point at which he felt comfortable. He says he sometimes wishes that his parents would force him to quit playing and study, because he finds it hard to quit when given the choice. Still, he says, video games are not responsible for his lack of focus, asserting that in another era he would have been distracted by TV or something else.

“Video games don’t make the hole; they fill it,” says Sean, sitting at a picnic table in the quad, where he is surrounded by a multimillion-dollar view: on the nearby hills are the evergreens that tower above the affluent neighborhoods populated by Internet tycoons. Sean, a senior, concedes that video games take a physical toll: “I haven’t done exercise since my sophomore year. But that doesn’t seem like a big deal. I still look the same.”

Sam Crocker, Vishal’s closest friend, who has straight A’s but lower SAT scores than he would like, blames the Internet’s distractions for his inability to finish either of his two summer reading books.

“I know I can read a book, but then I’m up and checking Facebook,” he says, adding: “Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”

He concludes: “My attention span is getting worse.”

The Lure of Distraction

Some neuroscientists have been studying people like Sam and Vishal. They have begun to understand what happens to the brains of young people who are constantly online and in touch.

In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework.

On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like “Harry Potter” or “Star Trek,” rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV.

The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Markus Dworak, a researcher who led the study and is now a neuroscientist at Harvard, said it was not clear whether the boys’ learning suffered because sleep was disrupted or, as he speculates, also because the intensity of the game experience overrode the brain’s recording of the vocabulary.

“When you look at vocabulary and look at huge stimulus after that, your brain has to decide which information to store,” he said. “Your brain might favor the emotionally stimulating information over the vocabulary.”

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory.

In that vein, recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self.

Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities.

“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

“The headline is: bring back boredom,” added Dr. Rich, who last month gave a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled, “Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from the River of Electronic Screens.”

Dr. Rich said in an interview that he was not suggesting young people should toss out their devices, but rather that they embrace a more balanced approach to what he said were powerful tools necessary to compete and succeed in modern life.

The heavy use of devices also worries Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who is known for research showing that children are not as harmed by TV viewing as some researchers have suggested.

Multitasking using ubiquitous, interactive and highly stimulating computers and phones, Professor Anderson says, appears to have a more powerful effect than TV.

Like Dr. Rich, he says he believes that young, developing brains are becoming habituated to distraction and to switching tasks, not to focus.

“If you’ve grown up processing multiple media, that’s exactly the mode you’re going to fall into when put in that environment — you develop a need for that stimulation,” he said.

Vishal can attest to that.

“I’m doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. I’m doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I can’t.”

“If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d focus more on school and be doing better academically,” he says. But thanks to the Internet, he says, he has discovered and pursued his passion: filmmaking. Without the Internet, “I also wouldn’t know what I want to do with my life.”

Clicking Toward a Future

The woman sits in a cemetery at dusk, sobbing. Behind her, silhouetted and translucent, a man kneels, then fades away, a ghost.

This captivating image appears on Vishal’s computer screen. On this Thursday afternoon in late September, he is engrossed in scenes he shot the previous weekend for a music video he is making with his cousin.

The video is based on a song performed by the band Guns N’ Roses about a woman whose boyfriend dies. He wants it to be part of the package of work he submits to colleges that emphasize film study, along with a documentary he is making about home-schooled students.

Now comes the editing. Vishal taught himself to use sophisticated editing software in part by watching tutorials on YouTube. He does not leave his chair for more than two hours, sipping Pepsi, his face often inches from the screen, as he perfects the clip from the cemetery. The image of the crying woman was shot separately from the image of the kneeling man, and he is trying to fuse them.

“I’m spending two hours to get a few seconds just right,” he says.

He occasionally sends a text message or checks Facebook, but he is focused in a way he rarely is when doing homework. He says the chief difference is that filmmaking feels applicable to his chosen future, and he hopes colleges, like the University of Southern Californiaor the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, will be so impressed by his portfolio that they will overlook his school performance.

“This is going to compensate for the grades,” he says. On this day, his homework includes a worksheet for Latin, some reading for English class and an economics essay, but they can wait.

For Vishal, there’s another clear difference between filmmaking and homework: interactivity. As he edits, the windows on the screen come alive; every few seconds, he clicks the mouse to make tiny changes to the lighting and flow of the images, and the software gives him constant feedback.

“I click and something happens,” he says, explaining that, by comparison, reading a book or doing homework is less exciting. “I guess it goes back to the immediate gratification thing.”

The $2,000 computer Vishal is using is state of the art and only a week old. It represents a concession by his parents. They allowed him to buy it, despite their continuing concerns about his technology habits, because they wanted to support his filmmaking dream. “If we put roadblocks in his way, he’s just going to get depressed,” his mother says. Besides, she adds, “he’s been making an effort to do his homework.”

At this point in the semester, it seems she is right. The first schoolwide progress reports come out in late September, and Vishal has mostly A’s and B’s. He says he has been able to make headway by applying himself, but also by cutting back his workload. Unlike last year, he is not taking advanced placement classes, and he has chosen to retake Algebra II not in the classroom but in an online class that lets him work at his own pace.

His shift to easier classes might not please college admissions officers, according to Woodside’s college adviser, Zorina Matavulj. She says they want seniors to intensify their efforts. As it is, she says, even if Vishal improves his performance significantly, someone with his grades faces long odds in applying to the kinds of colleges he aspires to.

Still, Vishal’s passion for film reinforces for Mr. Reilly, the principal, that the way to reach these students is on their own terms.

Hands-On Technology

Big Macintosh monitors sit on every desk, and a man with hip glasses and an easygoing style stands at the front of the class. He is Geoff Diesel, 40, a favorite teacher here at Woodside who has taught English and film. Now he teaches one of Mr. Reilly’s new classes, audio production. He has a rapt audience of more than 20 students as he shows a video of the band Nirvana mixing their music, then holds up a music keyboard.

“Who knows how to use Pro Tools? We’ve got it. It’s the program used by the best music studios in the world,” he says.

In the back of the room, Mr. Reilly watches, thrilled. He introduced the audio course last year and enough students signed up to fill four classes. (He could barely pull together one class when he introduced Mandarin, even though he had secured iPads to help teach the language.)

“Some of these students are our most at-risk kids,” he says. He means that they are more likely to tune out school, skip class or not do their homework, and that they may not get healthful meals at home. They may also do their most enthusiastic writing not for class but in text messages and on Facebook. “They’re here, they’re in class, they’re listening.”

Despite Woodside High’s affluent setting, about 40 percent of its 1,800 students come from low-income families and receive a reduced-cost or free lunch. The school is 56 percent Latino, 38 percent white and 5 percent African-American, and it sends 93 percent of its students to four-year or community colleges.

Mr. Reilly says that the audio class provides solid vocational training and can get students interested in other subjects.

“Today mixing music, tomorrow sound waves and physics,” he says. And he thinks the key is that they love not just the music but getting their hands on the technology. “We’re meeting them on their turf.”

It does not mean he sees technology as a panacea. “I’ll always take one great teacher in a cave over a dozen Smart Boards,” he says, referring to the high-tech teaching displays used in many schools.

Teachers at Woodside commonly blame technology for students’ struggles to concentrate, but they are divided over whether embracing computers is the right solution.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said Alan Eaton, a charismatic Latin teacher. He says that technology has led to a “balkanization of their focus and duration of stamina,” and that schools make the problem worse when they adopt the technology.

“When rock ’n’ roll came about, we didn’t start using it in classrooms like we’re doing with technology,” he says. He personally feels the sting, since his advanced classes have one-third as many students as they had a decade ago.

Vishal remains a Latin student, one whom Mr. Eaton describes as particularly bright. But the teacher wonders if technology might be the reason Vishal seems to lose interest in academics the minute he leaves class.

Mr. Diesel, by contrast, does not think technology is behind the problems of Vishal and his schoolmates — in fact, he thinks it is the key to connecting with them, and an essential tool. “It’s in their DNA to look at screens,” he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: “Frankenstein is in the room and I don’t want him to tear me apart. If I’m not using technology, I lose them completely.”

Mr. Diesel had Vishal as a student in cinema class and describes him as a “breath of fresh air” with a gift for filmmaking. Mr. Diesel says he wonders if Vishal is a bit like Woody Allen, talented but not interested in being part of the system.

But Mr. Diesel adds: “If Vishal’s going to be an independent filmmaker, he’s got to read Vonnegut. If you’re going to write scripts, you’ve got to read.”

Back to Reading Aloud

Vishal sits near the back of English IV. Marcia Blondel, a veteran teacher, asks the students to open the book they are studying, “The Things They Carried,” which is about the Vietnam War.

“Who wants to read starting in the middle of Page 137?” she asks. One student begins to read aloud, and the rest follow along.

To Ms. Blondel, the exercise in group reading represents a regression in American education and an indictment of technology. The reason she has to do it, she says, is that students now lack the attention span to read the assignments on their own.

“How can you have a discussion in class?” she complains, arguing that she has seen a considerable change in recent years. In some classes she can count on little more than one-third of the students to read a 30-page homework assignment.

She adds: “You can’t become a good writer by watching YouTube, texting and e-mailing a bunch of abbreviations.”

As the group-reading effort winds down, she says gently: “I hope this will motivate you to read on your own.”

It is a reminder of the choices that have followed the students through the semester: computer or homework? Immediate gratification or investing in the future?

Mr. Reilly hopes that the two can meet — that computers can be combined with education to better engage students and can give them technical skills without compromising deep analytical thought.

But in Vishal’s case, computers and schoolwork seem more and more to be mutually exclusive. Ms. Blondel says that Vishal, after a decent start to the school year, has fallen into bad habits. In October, he turned in weeks late, for example, a short essay based on the first few chapters of “The Things They Carried.” His grade at that point, she says, tracks around a D.

For his part, Vishal says he is investing himself more in his filmmaking, accelerating work with his cousin on their music video project. But he is also using Facebook late at night and surfing for videos on YouTube. The evidence of the shift comes in a string of Facebook updates.

Saturday, 11:55 p.m.: “Editing, editing, editing”

Sunday, 3:55 p.m.: “8+ hours of shooting, 8+ hours of editing. All for just a three-minute scene. Mind = Dead.”

Sunday, 11:00 p.m.: “Fun day, finally got to spend a day relaxing… now about that homework…”

Malia Wollan contributed reporting.


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Do Not Forget Our Men and Women in Afghanistan On Christmas

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 25, 2010

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A Christmas Message From Mazique

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 25, 2010

One of America’s best known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), contributed to the wealth of carols sung each Christmas season, when he composed the words to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" on December 25th 1864. The carol was originally a poem, "Christmas Bells," containing seven stanzas. Two stanzas were omitted, which contained references to the American Civil War, thus giving us the carol in its present form. The poem gave birth to the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," and the remaining five stanzas were slightly rearranged in 1872 by John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905), who also gave us the memorable tune. When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, America was still months away from Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th 1865; and, his poem reflected the prior years of the war’s despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace

As with any composition that touches the heart of the hearer, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" flowed from the experience of Longfellow– involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling injury of his son Charles from war wounds. Henry married Frances Appleton on July 13th 1843, and they settled down in the historic Craigie House overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were blessed with the birth of their first child, Charles, on June 9th 1844, and eventually, the Longfellow household numbered five children– Charles, Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra. Alice, the Longfellows’ third child and first daughter, was delivered, while her mother was under the anesthetic influence of ether– the first in North America.

Tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family in 1861. Confederate Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard fired the opening salvos of the American Civil War on April 12th, and Fanny Longfellow was fatally burned in an accident in the library of Craigie House on July 10th. The day before the accident, Fanny Longfellow recorded in her journal: "We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight." After trimming some of seven year old Edith’s beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed for sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress– immediately wrapping her in flames. In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry’s study in the next room, where Henry frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby, but undersized throw rug. Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances– severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral. (Incidentally, the trademark full beard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow arose from his inability to shave after this tragedy.)

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." Longfellow’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: "’A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me." Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal. Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, "Christmas Bells." The reelection of Abraham Lincoln or the possible end of the terrible war may have been the occasion for the poem. Lt. Charles Longfellow did not die that Christmas, but lived. So, contrary to popular belief, the occasion of writing that much loved Christmas carol was not due to Charles’ death.

Longfellow’s Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, "God is not dead." Even more, the bells announced, "Nor doth He sleep." God’s Truth, Power, and Justice are affirmed, when Longfellow wrote: "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail." The message that the Living God is a God of Peace is proclaimed in the close of the carol: "Of peace on Earth, good will to men."

Christmas Bells"
(The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas)

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"


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Help Support a Black Business

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 25, 2010

Jut saw a show on TV and they were talking about this company Mixed Chicks

Finally, a curl-defining system for "us". Whether you’re black, white, asian, latin, mediterranean, or any glorious combination of the above, you’ll love the way these non-sticky, lightweight products leave your hair inviting to touch as they define and lock moisture into every curl. Be a proud part of our multiracial movement…"MIXED CHICKS" your curls! And yes, it works on weaves.


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WSJ.com – A Box? Or a Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 15, 2010

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Sparking Creativity in Your Kids

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 15, 2010

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Reaching Out to Teenage Boys

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 9, 2010

Reaching Out to Teenage Boys


In 1994 Tracey Brown was fresh out of law school and looking for a way to get involved in her community.

She turned to the Links Inc., a national volunteer organization of more than 12,000 professional women of color.



Now a partner at the Cochran law firm in Manhattan, Ms. Brown is making a $10,000 donation to the Metro-Manhattan chapter to help expand Young Achievers, a mentoring program for young African-American men, from its Harlem home to communities across the country.

The announcement of the initiative will be made at the group’s gala at Capitale on Sunday. At the event, the group will honor Geoffrey Canada, founder of nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone, which runs charter schools and other programs for families in Harlem.

"We want to see more young men follow in the footsteps and legacy of Geoffrey Canada to change their community the way he has," says Anna Maria Bishop Harris, president of the Metro-Manhattan chapter of the Links.

The Metro-Manhattan chapter of the Links focuses on the children and families in Harlem through arts, education and leadership development.

"We want our young African-American men in graduation caps and gowns as opposed to orange jumpsuits. Someone has to step in and be accountable," Ms. Bishop Harris says.

Through its Young Achievers program, males ages 15 to 18 participate in a number of mentoring and educational events, including oratorical contests, etiquette training and SAT and college-preparatory classes and events. Through mentoring, enrichment and life skills, the group says since its inception it has helped 300 young men graduate from college.

"Living in Harlem I’ve been able to see a real sea change in our community," says Ms. Brown, who has served as a mentor over the years. "It’s palpable the change you see in the way these young men dress, how they behave and act, as well as an increased diligence in work and school."

The Metro-Manhattan chapter says they’ve already seen former mentees come back from college to work in Harlem and volunteer for the organization. Ms. Brown says part of that success is the Links’ close involvement in the community.

"We are embedded in the community in which we serve so what we accomplish is immediate and obvious," Ms. Brown says. "If something isn’t working we can quickly make adjustments and changes."

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Mentors Give Hope to At-Risk Students

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 6, 2010

Mentors Give Hope to At-Risk Students


CHICAGO—Nathan Draper squeezed into a classroom scrum at Urban Prep Charter Academy here, elbowing a huskier classmate aside.

As 16 fellow high-school students vigorously debated rapper Lil Wayne’s influence, Nathan stammered in a faint voice, "Barack Obama should be our role model."

Charter School Raises the Bar

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Clayton Hauck for The Wall Street Journal

The brief statement was a small victory for the 15-year-old, whose stutter has made him reluctant to speak up in public, and for the man in the middle of the huddle, 23-year-old Yale graduate Jeremy Harp.

Mr. Harp is one of six recent college graduates hired this year to mentor the young men at the South Shore campus of Urban Prep, an unusual all-male, all African-American charter high school, a public school run by a private entity.

The mentors in the Urban Prep Fellows program receive $800 a month plus rent and health insurance. They work closely with teachers to keep their charges on track, spending their days tutoring students in academics and their nights and weekends mentoring them on life skills. On call 24-7, they serve as confidants, counselors and parental figures to the boys, many of whom come from broken homes in gang-ravaged neighborhoods.

"He’s the first person in my life to ever help me," Nathan said of Mr. Harp. "He told me I was smart and I should calm down when I talk."

The Fellows program is part of Urban Prep’s larger mission to change the grim trajectory of inner-city African-American boys. A report released last month by the Council of the Great City Schools, a group that represents the nation’s largest urban districts, found that black males made up 5% of college enrollment in 2008, but 36% of the nation’s prison population.

In Chicago, 60% of African-American boys drop out of district high schools, according to the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

Urban Prep hopes to turn these statistics around.

The young men here follow a strict discipline code, attend school from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., and wear a black blazer and red tie. Every morning they line up ramrod straight and recite the school creed, promising to "live honestly, nonviolently and honorably."

"We create a school culture that provides a counter-narrative to the negative images of African-American manhood," said Tim King, who founded the first Urban Prep in 2006 and has since opened two more campuses in Chicago’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

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Clayton Hauck for The Wall Street Journal

Jeremy Harp, one of six recent college graduates hired to mentor young men at Urban Prep Charter Academy in Chicago, leads students in a debate about role models in pop culture.


At the group’s first campus in gang-infested Englewood, 80% of the 150 incoming freshman read at a sixth-grade level or below. Four years later in 2010, 107 graduated from the school and all were accepted to four-year colleges. Three of the other students were expelled and the rest transferred out of Urban Prep, school officials said.

Like all charters, Urban Prep receives government funding, but also raises money for extras like a longer school day and the mentoring program.

Mr. King started the Fellows program to expose Urban Prep teenagers to young men and women who have overcome their own challenges to graduate from elite colleges. One of the mentors had a best friend who was murdered; another suffers from a rare voice disorder.

Mr. Harp, whose mother is a teacher and father a janitor, attended a low-performing school in an Atlanta suburb. There, he fought against a stereotype that pegged his studious and respectful nature as "too white," he said.

At Urban Prep, Mr. Harp prods his young men—through words, actions and his very presence—to envision themselves at top-notch colleges. "They can’t dream it if they’ve never seen it or never been exposed to it," he said. He hopes to one day start a nonprofit that teaches kids the steps they must take to get into college.

The Urban Prep mentors, who live in six cramped apartments across the street from the school during their year in the program, are each in charge of about 20 students organized into "prides." They are responsible for their students’ academics and behavior, and teach a life-skills class that focuses on preparing students for college.

Students also come to them to talk about girls or feelings of abandonment when their fathers left, and the powerful pull of neighborhood gangs. They call, text and email their mentors late into the night and on the weekends seeking a friendly voice.

"Sometimes, all you can do is listen and tell them how proud you are of how far they’ve come," said Neel Lalchandani, an Urban Prep mentor and University of Pennsylvania graduate who takes his students bowling and out to dinner on weekends.

The Fellows know Urban Prep students are climbing a steep hill. Some students have trouble adjusting to the discipline code or academic rigor of the school. Others hide their personal problems and can sit sullen in school.

Fellow Andre Bobb, a graduate of DePaul University, saw one of his students expelled and took it as a defeat. "You can’t help but take it personal because I am responsible for these young men," he said. Mr. Bobb still keeps in touch with the boy, who has enrolled in another high school.

But the Fellows’ influence can be seen all over the school. Charles Davis, a self-assured 14-year old, said Mr. Harp nagged him every day to focus on his classes and complete his homework. Mr. Harp called him at home, ran after him in the hallways and, eventually, helped bring his grade-point average from 2.1 to 3.0.

"He’s like a big brother and I didn’t want to disappoint him," Charles said.

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The Fall of NYC Basketball

Posted by jcmaziquemd on December 1, 2010

New York Loses Allure as a Basketball Mecca

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If the history of basketball ended with the 20th century, New York’s eminence in the sport would be undeniable.

Not only were the Knickerbockers a flagship franchise in the National Basketball Association, but the city was home to the two most successful teams of touring professionals in the early years of pro basketball, the Original Celtics and the Renaissance Five.

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A once common sight—boys playing pickup basketball in New York City in 1920.


In Madison Square Garden, New York provided the first grand stage for big-time college competition, hosting doubleheaders among nationally ranked teams and the oldest postseason championship tournament, the NIT, while earning a reputation as basketball’s Mecca. Beyond those contributions, New York nurtured so many residents to stardom they could support an entire wing in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Against such a backdrop, the current state of New York basketball is appalling. The Knicks haven’t won a playoff game in a decade and have endured nine consecutive losing seasons despite one of the highest payrolls in the NBA. While the Knicks bumped along the bottom, local colleges lost legions of fans by fielding unattractive and unsuccessful teams.

Not since 2006 has a team from the metropolitan area so much as qualified for the postseason NCAA tournament, let alone won a game, which last happened in 2004. Of perhaps greater significance, the city hasn’t produced a consensus first-team All-American since 1993 when Jamal Mashburn, the University of Kentucky forward from Cardinal Hayes High School, was so honored. Almost as astonishing is the fact that no player born and raised in New York has been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame since 1996, and that individual was a woman, Nancy Lieberman. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was Lew Alcindor when he played high-school ball at Power Memorial in the city, was inducted the previous year.

New York, said Tom Konchalski, the most respected evaluator of basketball talent in the area, "is not the Mecca of basketball any more."

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Mustafah Abdulaziz for The Wall Street Journal

A game at Caton Park organized by the Police Athletic League in August in Prospect Park South.


His isn’t a solitary opinion. "What New York has lost, the rest of the country has gained," noted Gary Charles, director of the New York Panthers, a summer-league program that has enrolled some of New York’s most talented youngsters for the past two decades. "You see teams from Florida or Texas where it used to be just football. Is New York still the king? It could be Washington, D.C., one year, Chicago the next. No one [owns] the market."

What happened? "More kids are abandoning the game for other forms of recreation," Mr. Konchalski said. "It first struck me in about 1989 or 1990. I took a train to see St. John the Baptist in West Islip. John Walsh was playing there before he went to St. Thomas More (Connecticut) and the University of Maryland. At the train station, I saw these three Irish kids on skateboards. And I thought, ‘They should be working on their jump shots.’ "

During its heyday, New York became identified with a particular brand of basketball, aggressive but intelligent, defined by playmakers who ran their teams with precision well before the term point guard was popularized. Men like Dick McGuire, Bob Cousy, Lenny Wilkens and Tiny Archibald set the bar for Kenny Smith, Kenny Anderson, Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland. Although the champion Knick teams of the early 1970s were composed of players from such diverse areas as Louisiana, Missouri and Michigan, their movements were choreographed by Red Holzman, a New York native who studied under Mr. Basketball himself, Nat Holman, at City College.

Electronic advances have played no small part in the decline.

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Kareem Abdul Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, in 1965.


"It seems like kids prefer to play basketball on PlayStation or Xbox," said Barry Rohrssen, a native New Yorker who made his reputation recruiting New York athletes for Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon at the University of Pittsburgh and now is in his fifth year as head coach at Manhattan College. "My first or second year at Pitt, my job was to organize practice. We were supposed to play Syracuse that week and, instead of getting to practice early, some of the kids were in their dorm playing Syracuse-Pitt on PlayStation. Now it saddens me to drive past playgrounds and see vacant courts."

Mr. Smith was one of those kids who spent all his free time on those public courts. He was a member of the great 1983 class of city point guards that included Pearl Washington and Mark Jackson. A first-team All-American at North Carolina and a two-time NBA champion with the Houston Rockets, he’s a longtime television analyst with TNT.

"When I was growing up, there were [older] guys like my brother, Vincent, who worked with you in the park," Mr. Smith recalled. "One day it would be left-handed layups, and another day it would be your crossover. That’s all you did. The kids believe the way to college scholarships now is to go to all these tournaments. When you go on the road, you’re only as good as the competition. Now you’re doing what everyone is doing in Idaho or South Dakota. Instead of honing their skills in the summer, they travel and play games."

"That might have been true five years ago," Mr. Charles countered. "But a lot of these kids work with trainers, go to the gyms in the summer. Rafer Alston coaches in our program and he starts with daily drills. But it’s true they’re not in the parks any more. I’ll ride around on Sunday and go past Roosevelt Park [where Julius Erving once reigned] and no one’s there. It’s the same in the city."

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New Orleans Hornet Jamal Mashburn in 2003.


Of course, some of the best players check out of the area for academic, security or family issues, draining talent from New York high schools. Residents who completed high school elsewhere include NBA fixtures Joakim Noah and Charlie Villanueva, Villanova senior Corey Fisher and top prospects Doron Lamb (Kentucky) and Rod Odom (Vanderbilt). Maurice Harkless, the first local to commit to St. John’s coach Steve Lavin, departed Forest Hills to spend his senior year at South Kent in Connecticut.

"Kids leave town for a lot of reasons," said Mr. Konchalski, the editor and publisher of High School Basketball Illustrated. "New York still produces as many low and middle Div. I players as ever, but not the elite kids."

Some who are considered elite in high school succumb to the hype that stifles basketball prodigies in New York. The most recent was Lance Stephenson, who made the cover of Dime magazine at 17, spent one year at the University of Cincinnati and has yet to play a game for the Indiana Pacers.

Before him, Sebastian Telfair was the flavor of the day in Coney Island. The flashy guard, the subject of a book and a documentary in high school, skipped college altogether for the NBA and has been traded five times.

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Archbishop Molloy standout Kenny Anderson in 1987 in the locker room.


A lengthy Sports Illustrated story in the fall of 2000 hailed Taliek Brown, Andre Barrett and Omar Cook as the "Holy Trinity of point guards" after the three New Yorkers enrolled at Connecticut, Seton Hall and St. John’s, respectively. Mr. Brown won a national championship at UConn, and Mr. Barrett had a rewarding career at the Hall. But Mr. Cook, the best pure passer of the trio and the one with the most potential, left St. John’s without a reliable jump shot after one year, failed to stick with an NBA team and, like Erick Barkley, his predecessor at the point for the Red Storm, spent the better part of a decade playing for obscure European teams.

"Bad decisions," Mr. Konchalski said. "Barkley and Cook should be in the NBA. Shammgod Wells [also known as God Shammgod, a point guard who left Providence College early] should be in the NBA. We all listen selectively."

And in New York, there are so many voices whispering in a player’s ear. "There’s a sense of entitlement among New York players," Mr. Charles said. "Before, a stud player might have a mentor. Now kids who shouldn’t even be on the team have their [adviser]. The problem is we put these guys on such a high pedestal that if they don’t become NBA all-stars, they’re considered failures."

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New York City product Kenny Smith in 1988 as a point guard for the Sacramento Kings.


Stephon Marbury has been both. He was the former as point guard for the Timberwolves. But a series of bad decisions has led him to China. The last NBA all-star from New York? Ron Artest in 2004. He, too, made some poor choices but revived his career last season with the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

The New York City game could use a boost from the Knicks. "It’s like the housing market," Mr. Smith said. "When that’s off, construction workers suffer. The Knicks are New York to a lot of people. It’s not a coincidence that the colleges are down."

Although the Knicks failed to lure LeBron James to the Big Apple during the free-agent frenzy this summer, they did sign Amar’e Stoudemire and are generating some genuine excitement.

The wholesale reorganization of Division I programs that resulted in nine new coaches at metropolitan area colleges has paid immediate dividends in recruiting, starting at St. John’s, where Mr. Lavin not only imported the best player in Los Angeles for the current squad but has attracted one of the best recruiting classes in the nation for next year.

"Everyone across the country is talking about what [Mr. Lavin] has done," Mr. Charles said. "I think this will help motivate other kids to think, ‘I want to play at St. John’s.’ "

Certainly, that would be a start on the road back. "We had something special here," Mr. Rohrssen said, "and we have to try to make it special again. For one team not to make it [to the NCAA Tournament] in all those years is bad. How about we all make it. Let’s make that the next story."

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