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WBEN Extra: Back To School 2013

YESTERDAY SEPT 3: Akron | Alden | Cleve Hill | Hamburg | LakeShore | Williamsville

OPENING TODAY: Amherst | Barker | Cheektowaga | Cheektowaga Sloan | Eden |Frontier | Holland | Iroquois |Lancaster | Lewiston Porter | Lockport | Maryvale | Newfane | Niagara Wheatfield | North Collins | North Tonawanda | Royalton-Hartland |Starpoint |Tonawanda | Wilson |

OPENING TOMORROW  SEPT. 5: Buffalo | Depew | Clarence | East Aurora | Kenmore Tonawanda | Lackawanna | Niagara Falls | Orchard Park | Springville G.I. | West Seneca        MONDAY SEPT 9: Grand Island

 COMPLETE COVERAGE:    By-The-Numbers | Core Curriculum Standards | School Lunch Changes | At the Nurse's Office | Supply Shopping

Time for those First Day Back-To-School Photos : Send yours to newsroom@WBEN.com and we'll include them in our back to school photo album

Compared to when YOU went to school, how do you think today's experience stacks up?
Things have improved!
( 9% )
Things have gone downhill!
( 75% )
It's all about the same.
( 16% )

Schools and classrooms are spiffed up - maybe.   New textbooks have been ordered - perhaps.  Teachers are energized - hopefully. What's certain is that millions of children in the United States are heading to school after the summer. Many are there for the first time, while others are in the final year of their formal education.

There will be tears, from some prekindergarten and kindergarten youngsters starting school, and from parents as they leave their new college students at the dorm.

Statistics make clear that those with college degrees generally will do better than their peers who do not graduate and that those who drop out from high school face an even more dismal future.

On The WBEN Liveline:  From the Bus Garage

Robert Weselak, Sweet Home
Transportation Dir.
 Clarence's John WIdeman
& Williamsville Caroline Parry


The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that in 2013, 50.1 million children will be enrolled in U.S. public schools and 5.2 million will be in private school. That doesn't include students who are home-schooled. The Education Department's statistics arm also estimated there were 1.5 million U.S. students home-schooled in 2007; advocates of home schooling advocates put the number higher.


There are about 3.3 million elementary and secondary public teachers in 2013, leading to a student teacher ratio of 15-to-1, NCES said.

The average teacher in a public school earned about $56,000 for the school year that ended in 2011, according to the agency. When adjusted for inflation, that salary is only 3 percent higher than it was for the year that ended in the spring of 1991.


The buzz word these days is Common Core. The Common Core State Standards establish benchmarks for student learning in math and reading. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, which critics decry as tantamount to a national curriculum. Supporters counter that the standards are necessary to ensure that high school graduates are ready for college or career.


 NCES says $591 billion will be spent during the new school year. That breaks down to an average $11,810 for each student.

The City of Buffalo ranks third in the nation among large city school districts, spending an average of $26,903 per student according to the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester.

In WNY, Lancaster ranks the lowest with a 2010-11 average of  $12,894 per pupil, according to Business First's annual rankings based on NYS Ed. Dept. Data. Ripley in  Chautauqua County ranks first with  $25,622


In some households, it is a tradition that children get a new outfit for that first day of school. But the cost is just a fraction of what parents pay to get their children ready for school.

The National Retail Federation estimated that a family's back-to-school spending for elementary and secondary school in 2013 would average about $634.78. In addition to clothing, supplies and electronics add to the total. That's down more than $50 from the previous year


Last December's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., brought questions about school security to the forefront.

More than 1.2 million students between ages 12 and 18 were victims of crimes at school in 2011, according to NCES and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of those, nearly half were violent crimes and 648,600 involved thefts, the agencies said.

Among students ages 5 to 18, there were 11 homicides and three suicides at school from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011.

The toll at Sandy Hook Elementary School was nearly double that number: 20 students were killed, along with six adults.


More than 2 million students took 3.7 million Advanced Placement exams in 2012 in an attempt to earn college credit while still in high school, according the College Board, which administers the test.

The numbers have increased steadily since the 1955-56 school year, when 1,229 students took 2,199 exams.

But the increase in participation doesn't necessarily translate into an increase in college credit. In 1992, 65.5 percent tests scored at least a 3, usually the minimum grade to earn credit. That dropped to 59.2 in 2012.

From The New York State School Boards Assoc:

As schools begin the new school year, board members across the state expect their students will perform better on next year’s grades 3-8 state assessments compared to this year, according to a recent poll by the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA).

“With another year of implementing Common Core under their belts, school board members clearly are optimistic that students will meet the challenge before them in the coming school year,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “Last spring’s state assessments provided a baseline for how well schools are preparing their students to meet the new Common Core curriculum standards. Now we know the extent of the task ahead.”

Sixty-seven percent of school board members said they expect their district’s third- through eighth-graders to perform better on next year’s state Common Core assessments.

Most schools saw a significant drop in the percentages of students demonstrating proficiency on the most recent exams after the new curriculum and tests were implemented this year for the first time. Twelve percent did not expect better performance, and 20 percent were not sure.   

“Clearly it is going to take time for everyone – educators, students and board members alike –to get fully up to speed on Common Core,” said Kremer.

Board members’ optimism about increased student performance on Common Core exams, however, is tempered by their concern about being able to provide extra help for all students that currently are not meeting the standards.

From HARDLINE, The WBEN Politics Program
(Sunday 10a-12 n)

Tim Kremer, NYS School Boards Assoc
with WBEN's Dave Debo


Nearly three in four board members (73 percent) said they are concerned their districts will not have sufficient resources to provide remedial instruction – known as academic intervention services – to all students who scored at the lower levels on the grades 3-8 state assessments.

Moreover, nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said that funding for academic intervention services is the one area in which their districts need the most help from the state in implementing Common Core.

“The state is looking at giving schools the option of providing remediation to only the lowest-achieving students this year rather than all students,” said Kremer. “But school boards will have trouble telling parents that their children, who might not have scored lowest but still need extra support, cannot get extra help.”

Results are based on an informal NYSSBA Pulse Poll of school board members conducted in August 2013. The three-question poll drew between 618 and 629 respondents, depending on the question.

AP PhotoSome school districts quit healthier lunch program

(AP) After just one year, some schools around the country are dropping out of the healthier new federal lunch program, complaining that so many students turned up their noses at meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that the cafeterias were losing money.

Federal officials say they don't have exact numbers but have seen isolated reports of schools cutting ties with the $11 billion National School Lunch Program, which reimburses schools for meals served and gives them access to lower-priced food.

Districts that rejected the program say the reimbursement was not enough to offset losses from students who began avoiding the lunch line and bringing food from home or, in some cases, going hungry.

"Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn't eat," said Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis, whose district saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 lost under the program last year.

"So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they're hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness."

In upstate New York, a few districts have quit the program, including the Schenectady-area Burnt Hills Ballston Lake system, whose five lunchrooms ended the year $100,000 in the red.

Near Albany, Voorheesville Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder said her district lost $30,000 in the first three months. The program didn't even make it through the school year after students repeatedly complained about the small portions and apples and pears went from the tray to the trash untouched.

Districts that leave the program are free to develop their own guidelines. Voorheesville's chef began serving such dishes as salad topped with flank steak and crumbled cheese, pasta with chicken and mushrooms, and a panini with chicken, red peppers and cheese.

In Catlin, soups and fish sticks will return to the menu this year, and the hamburger lunch will come with yogurt and a banana - not one or the other, like last year.

Nationally, about 31 million students participated in the guidelines that took effect last fall under the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Dr. Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, which oversees the program, said she is aware of reports of districts quitting but is still optimistic about the program's long-term prospects.

"The vast majority of schools across the country are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, which is so important to help all our nation's children lead healthier lives," Thornton said.

"Many of these children have never seen or tasted some of the fruits and vegetables that are being served before, and it takes a while to adapt and learn," she said.

The agency had not determined how many districts have dropped out, Thornton said, cautioning that "the numbers that have threatened to drop and the ones that actually have dropped are quite different."

The School Nutrition Association found that 1 percent of 521 district nutrition directors surveyed over the summer planned to drop out of the program in the 2013-14 school year and about 3 percent were considering the move.

Not every district can afford to quit. The National School Lunch Program provides cash reimbursements for each meal served: about $2.50 to $3 for free and reduced-priced meals and about 30 cents for full-price meals. That takes the option of quitting off the table for schools with large numbers of poor youngsters.

The new guidelines set limits on calories and salt, phase in more whole grains and require that fruit and vegetables be served daily. A typical elementary school meal under the program consisted of whole-wheat cheese pizza, baked sweet potato fries, grape tomatoes with low-fat ranch dip, applesauce and 1 percent milk.

In December, the Agriculture Department, responding to complaints that kids weren't getting enough to eat, relaxed the 2-ounce-per-day limit on grains and meats while keeping the calorie limits.


At Wallace County High in Sharon Springs, Kan., football player Callahan Grund said the revision helped, but he and his friends still weren't thrilled by the calorie limits (750-850 for high school) when they had hours of calorie-burning practice after school. The idea of dropping the program has come up at board meetings, but the district is sticking with it for now.

"A lot of kids were resorting to going over to the convenience store across the block from school and kids were buying junk food," the 17-year-old said. "It was kind of ironic that we're downsizing the amount of food to cut down on obesity but kids are going and getting junk food to fill that hunger."

To make the point, Grund and his schoolmates starred last year in a music video parody of the pop hit "We Are Young." Instead, they sang, "We Are Hungry." (above L)

It was funny, but Grund's mother, Chrysanne Grund, said her anxiety was not.

"I was quite literally panicked about how we would get enough food in these kids during the day," she said, "so we resorted to packing lunches most days."

AP PhotoELMA, N.Y. (AP) -- "Nurse Zak's" health office at Elma Primary School in the Iroquois School District Buffalo has all the Band-Aids, ice packs and cotton balls expected in a place tasked with treating the bumps, bruises and paper cuts of school life.

But there's also a rocking chair and stuffed animal for when comfort is the best medicine, a few pairs of sneakers to lend so forgetful kids don't miss gym and some shirts and pants in case of a spill or mishap in the lab.

Nurse Zak - Jane Zakrzewski  (pictured above L)  - has found that being prepared as a school nurse means being ready for pretty much anything.

In her 30 years on the job, the tummy aches, headaches and bouts of lice and strep throat have remained consistent, she said. But today, school nurses also see things like life-threatening food allergies, behavioral and emotional issues and, in today's culture of inclusion, conditions that would have kept children out of the mainstream in the past.

Now, school nurses might suction tracheostomies, clean gastrostomy tubes, monitor wearable insulin pumps, keep track of inhalers and EpiPens, give medicine for ADHD and seizures and dispense birth control.

It's a far cry from what Lina Rogers Struthers might have seen in 1902, when she was made the nation's first school nurse as an experiment to stem the spread of contagious diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever in New York City schools.

"In general, people want their children to be as normal as possible so they want to send their children to a public school setting and want them to be part of the public school community and grow up just as any other child would grow up," Zakrzewski said.

"I really, in my heart of hearts, feel like there's nothing we can't handle," she said.

Zakrzewski is one of about 74,000 registered nurses working as school nurses in the nearly 100,000 public elementary and secondary schools. Their offices are seen as an intersection between health and education.

"Students that are healthy stay in school, have fewer absences and they learn better," said Carolyn Duff, president of the National Association of School Nurses, "and students that are well educated become healthier adults."

School nurses, through annual screenings, are often the ones to catch hearing and vision loss in students and identify those at risk for obesity and related problems.

They also can influence school policy on topics from concussion management to hand-washing, said Mark Bishop, spokesman for the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign. The initiative offers school nurse leadership training as part of its efforts to create healthy school environments.

"School nurses can really provide leadership and direction in a school," Bishop said, "to really create this environment of health, whether it is identifying conditions that are hampering students' ability to learn through looking at the exposures to chemicals and indoor air quality to really providing prevention services in schools."

The goal is to keep attendance as high as possible at a time of increasingly challenging curricula and graduation requirements, he and others said.

It's a tall order, especially considering a school nurse is often the lone medical professional in buildings with hundreds of students, varying numbers of whom may be without access to outside health care.

"It's not for every nurse," said Duff, who practices in a Columbia, S.C. elementary school with 430 students. She said confidence, independence and the ability to interact with teachers and parents are musts, as well as continued education to keep up with ever-changing issues, from the peanut allergies that emerged in the 1990s to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 and anti-bullying efforts of today.

"It's a different milieu than a hospital setting" where in an emergency, help is always near, Duff said. "That isn't the case in schools," she said. "You can call one of your colleagues in another school, but basically it's you."

It's not just physical ailments that fill nurses' days. A 2005 study published by the Department of Health and Human Services found that school nurses spend about a third of their time providing mental health services, ranging from referrals and crisis planning to simply listening.

"When I worked in the high school I may have been more of a counselor than an actual nurse at times because of the amount of time I spent listening to students and their issues," Zakrzewski said. "Boyfriend-girlfriend relationships ... I've had children speak to me about doing drugs and drinking and situations with their parents."

Rochester, N.Y., school nurses in February joined the expanding list of those handing out condoms in high schools and providing guidance on safe sex. Regulations on contraception vary from state to state and district to district, Duff said.

The average ratio of nurse to student varies from state to state, according to NASN, which recommends a 1-to-750 ratio for well students and 1-to-225 ratio in schools with students who require daily services.

Vermont had the lowest average ratio at 1-to-396 in 2010, the most recent year studied, according to NASN. Michigan posted the highest ratio at 1-to-4,411.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., a school nurse for more than 30 years before her election to Congress, introduced legislation in May to create federal grants to help states lower nurse-to-student ratios. More than half of the country's public schools don't have a nurse on site all day, every day, and up to one-quarter don't have a nurse in the building at all, McCarthy said.

The legislation is supported by NASN and the American Federation of Teachers.

Shoppers are holding off on back-to-school shopping, and those who delay long enough might be rewarded with some steep discounts from desperate retailers.

(AP) Revenue at stores open at least a year - an industry measure of a retailer's health- rose 3.5 percent in July, the slowest pace since March, according to a tally of 11 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The figure, which excludes drugstores, was below a 5.5 percent increase in June.

Exclusive WBEN Audio
On The WBEN Liveline
Kathy Grannis, National Retail Federation
from the National Retail Federation:

Shop Early, But Not Often: Families are already out and about shopping for school items: 23.9 percent of families with children in grades K-12 say they will begin shopping at least two months before school (i.e. right now), up from 22.3 percent last year and the highest percentage seen in the survey’s 11-year history. Half (49%) will shop three weeks to one month before school, 21.8 percent will shop one to two weeks before school, 2.8 percent will shop the week school starts, and 2.6 percent will shop after the start of the season.

Get Dressed: The biggest portion of back-to-school shoppers’ budgets will go toward new apparel and accessories: 95.3 percent of those with school-age children will spend an average of $230.85 on fall sweaters, denim and other chic pieces of attire. Additionally, families will spend on shoes ($114.39) and school supplies ($90.49).

Unplug:  Fewer families with children in grades K-12 will purchase electronics (55.7%), and those that are going to invest in a new tablet or smartphone are going to spend slightly less than last year ($199.05 vs. $217.88 in 2012).

Where To Go: Though most school shoppers (67.1%) will visit their favorite discount store for school items as they did last year, department stores will be popular with teens and their parents this season as well: 61.7 percent will shop at department stores, up from 59.9 percent last year and the highest in the survey’s history. Additionally, 51.5 percent will shop at a clothing store, 40.6 percent will shop at an office supply store, 37.3 percent will shop online and 25.9 percent will shop at an electronics store. One in five will hit their local drug store (19.6%) and 13.7 percent will look for goods at thrift/resale stores.
Many stores were already offering discounts and other come-ons to get shoppers to spend on the new shipments of fall clothing that started flowing in mid-July. But experts say even more deal are coming this month as stores try to boost sales for the back-to-school season, which runs from mid-July through mid-September.

"It was a lousy start," said Walter Loeb, a New York-based independent retail consultant. "There will be even more discounts to make up the sales."

Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research firm, agrees.

"A vast number of shoppers are sticking to their shopping lists and are being very deal-driven," he said.

Only a sliver of retail chains now report monthly sales figures, and the list doesn't include Wal-Mart and many other large chains. But Thursday's tally adds to evidence that shoppers are being frugal about their purchases, particularly clothing. The back-to-school season is the second-biggest selling period behind the winter holidays.

On Monday, teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters Inc. slashed its second-quarter outlook because of weak traffic and sluggish sales of women's merchandise. The teen retailer cited a highly promotional environment that only got tougher in July.

On Thursday, rival Aeropostale Inc. warned that it would have a wider loss than expected when it reports its second-quarter results later this month. It also blamed weak traffic and lots of discounting.

A clearer picture of how the back-to-school season is faring will emerge next week when major retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy's Inc. report their second-quarter financial results. Analysts will dissect the outlooks merchants have for the fall quarter.

Overall, the back-to-school season faces a big challenge: Shoppers are shifting their spending away from clothing and toward bigger-ticket spending on their homes and cars because they have more credit available, says Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe.

He says they're using this "fiscal freedom" to spend on the more expensive items, cutting into lower-priced impulse buys like clothing. That has stores competing hard for dollars.

July is when stores clear out summer merchandise to make room for goods for back to school. Slow sales indicate that shoppers are holding off on buying clothing as they face other expenditures. A heat wave helped clear out discounted summer goods but did little to move warmer fall clothing among shoppers who are sticking to what they need immediately.

While jobs are easier to get and the turnaround in the housing market is gaining momentum, the improvements have not been enough to sustain higher levels of consumer spending for most Americans. Most are juggling tepid wage gains with higher costs of living.

Americans are still trying to digest the 2 percentage-point increase in payroll taxes, which took effect Jan. 1. That means that take-home pay for a household earning $50,000 a year has been sliced by $1,000. Gas prices are rising again, and on top of that, shoppers are being increasingly forced to pay for more of their children's school supplies, sometimes including books.

That has forced parents to stick to necessities. Major retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have noticed that they're staggering their purchases instead of having one big back-to-school shopping spree.

Against this background, Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, expects that total sales for the back-to-school season will rise 3.1 percent from last year to $42.2 billion. That would be less than the 3.6 percent gain in 2012, but near the 3.3 percent average annual increase for the past 10 years.

Families with school-age children are expected to spend an average of $634.78 on clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics, down from $688.62 last year, according to a survey of about 5,600 shoppers from the National Retail Federation that was conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

From The National Retail Federation:

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