Girls and Sexual Identity- The Pleasure Factor

th-1As the mom of a thirteen year old girl I’ve thought a lot about how to talk to her about sex. When I hear that  many girls have their first sexual experiences while drunk and with a person they don’t have a significant emotional attachment to I worry. That’s hardly the experience I want for my daughter. I want my daughter to feel empowered, confident and respectful of her sexuality. My hope is that through open conversation I can equip my daughter with the tools to make the right choices so that she doesn’t feel the need to use her sexuality as a weapon to achieve a distorted sense of the amazing girl she truly is.

Below is a link to an important interview that I recently listened to with Peggy Orenstein, author of “Girls & Sex, Navigating the Complicated New Landscape.”


“Unslut”-Sexual Bullying in Schools

Unknown-1The other day on NPR I listened to an interview with a woman who uses the fictitious name Emily Linden and wrote a wrote a book called “Unslut”. The book is a memoir based on Emily’s diary entries when she was between 6th and 8th grades and it chronicles the sexual bullying and peer pressure she faced growing up. If parents, tweens, teens and educators don’t read the book they should at the very least explore the subject matter and its prevalence with our kids in schools today.

Emily began puberty earlier than most of her peers. She had her period when she was 10 and developed breasts soon after. She says that both boys and girls were fascinated with the physical transformation of her body and she was viewed by many peers who had not yet begun to mature as a sexual anomaly. Emily’s curiosity about herself and the opposite sex heightened too as she continued to progress through puberty. She flirted, developed relationships with the opposite sex and experimented by going to “3rd base”.

It did not take long for Emily to find herself caught up in a vicious cycle of sexual bullying because of her perceived actions and the stigma that was associated with her early sexual development. She quickly found herself being labeled a “tease” and a “slut” by her peers, and for many years she lived with the reputation and the pain that ensued.

Emily explains that at the time she too engaged in the sexual bullying that was so destructive to her. She says that there was a culture of sexual bullying in school that seemed like a norm, that no one was immune from it and many would partake in. There was such a need to identify with a group, in Emily’s case the popular kids, that it made her lose site of who she really was and the values that truly defined her.

This culture exists to this very day and the power of social media, where damaging words or images can be spread in a blink of an eye, makes it even more destructive and dangerous.  What can we do as parents? We have to try to break this collective negative culture where it’s cool to put people down, spread rumors, and define a person or a group by one identifiable word.  The jocks, the nerds, the popular kids, the fast kids, the loners, the druggies. When we peg people by one identifiable word we become immune to the fact that people have many positive attributes that deserve to be explored. What about talking to our kids about developing new relationships and breaking down barriers between groups in an attempt to rid themselves of negative perceptions? In the interview Emily states that the people that you’re hanging your identity on really don’t matter and in her case did not remain her friends as she worked on defining her values.

We also need to help to teach our kids about positive and respectful ideas of female and male empowerment.  Girls, it does not come in the form of an Instagram picture of yourselves with pouty lips and cleavage showing and boys, you are not empowering yourselves by posting images of yourselves engaged in the latest make out sessions. But when kids seem to be trying to race to the sexual maturity finish line with the Kardashians and the lascivious fictional characters from Gossip Girls in tow, what should we expect?

The reality is that in the middle school years our kids are coming into a new stage of development and exploration that should be expected by parents and doesn’t have to be negative. It’s up to us to empower our kids by helping them to develop a strong value system and the integrity that keeps it in place as they navigate through the sometimes perilous but often rewarding years of puberty.


**Update to Planting the Seeds for Greener Schools

Justin“What is the input and output of the greenhouse?” “What role do you play in this food production chain?” These were some of the questions asked by Buffalo public and charter school  students last night as we gathered in Tapestry’s greenhouse for a discussion with Justin Royer,  the school’s Americorp volunteer.

Justin has a degree in sustainable agriculture and has been an incredible resource for the school. He and the students have acted as producers by planting seeds, harvesters by picking plants and vegetables when they are ripe,  distributors when they walk the foods to the cafeteria for the school chef to use in recipes, and consumers when they eat the fruits of their labor.  Although there are raised beds on the school grounds,  a lot of the growing happens in the  greenhouse which is considered a “cold frame”. This type of greenhouse, with clear panels that admit sunlight throughout the year,  is often used in cold weather climates to prolong the growing season.

InteriorGreenhouseLast night we discussed the challenges that the school has faced in the development of a greenhouse and teaching garden and there were many. Lack of resources to get all of the necessary equipment such as fans, lighting, trays and plants was an initial hurdle. The solution? Searching for grant money and developing relationships with community organizations that are involved in gardening and agriculture sustainability. In Buffalo we are lucky to have two such organizations: Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP),, and Grass Roots Gardens of Buffalo, These organizations have helped Buffalo public and charter schools with gardens, grant money and farm to school initiatives.

Additional challenges included weather, the unexpected warm temperatures of Buffalo’s 70 degree winter, difficulty finding helpers to take care of the plants during holidays the summer months, and difficulty fitting new curriculum surrounding food sustainability into already packed school days.

Interiorgreenhouse2Although there are hurdles in establishing a sustainable agricultural environment in a school community, the benefits are far greater. When students come together to understand the cycle, plant seeds, watch things grow, harvest and consume, they learn valuable lessons about working together for a common outcome that has an impact on them,  the community and the environment. When you add to this the incredible stewardship of a volunteer like Justin, you have that much more of a chance for success!


Planting the Seeds for Greener Schools

Greenhouse.jpgWe laid the groundwork for an amazing playground for the kids of Tapestry Charter School and the surrounding community a few years ago. It was a ton of work but one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been involved with. From the moment it was built you could always expect a  regularly cacophony of shrieks and laughter as the kids navigated and explored their incredible “play and learn” space, the first they had ever had in the Tapestry community.

GLS.jpgWhen I planned the playground I also envisioned a green learning structure, a free standing outdoor classroom for the students to use to learn about weather, sustainability, science, even art with paintable surfaces and an outdoor stage floor for performances. Then I took it even further and won a grant to be used for a greenhouse. What did we end up with? A green learning structure that was underutilized, a green roof that was planted and regularly died and a greenhouse that took time, energy, additional money and commitment to get off the ground. Nothing happened over night, but, after things fell into place, perseverance, a word that is such a strong part of Tapestry’s message, fell into place.

One parent could not make this project work. You have to build a network and that has happened at Tapestry through a strong Americorp volunteer base. This year we’ve had a volunteer who is particularly committed to wellness initiatives and sustainability and that is a big part of the reason this wonderful outdoor learning space has been further developed.

There will always be reasons for not pushing a new learning experience forward but in these days of Common Core and tired and stressed out students and teachers, shouldn’t we take a moment or two to reexamine current learning and  curriculum development structures and think of ways to invigorate and engage students on a new level? Tapestry is doing that and it’s something to pay attention to.

Colorado high school sexting scandal highlights hidden apps – WWMT – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic

I just heard a discussion on NPR about this sexting scandal in Colorado. In the world of technology we live in we have to be aware and be more open than ever with our discussions with our kids. I read a study recently that said sexting is the precursor to actual sex and it becomes really prevalent around the age of 13. If you know kids this age and have not yet seen the beginnings of suggestive photos on Instagram or all too revealing tweets on Twitter get ready. It’s coming. Exploration with sexuality? Bullying? I’m sure every situation is different but as parents we’ve got to open up the channels of communication. It might seem harmless enough to send a suggestive picture to a first time boyfriend, but that image lives on forever in cyberspace and anyone can get their hands on it. Let’s also remember Snapchat where the image disappears almost instantly but the damage from sexting could reverberate for years.

CANYON CITY, Colorado (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – A sexting scandal at a Colorado high school has parents on high alert.

Source: Colorado high school sexting scandal highlights hidden apps – WWMT – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic

Working the Cafeteria Line

For the past month I’ve been going into my daughter’s school cafeteria every Thursday to pass out samples of the Farm to School recipe of the week. This comes a 45K planning grant that our district was awarded  from Cornell Cooperative Extension to  begin to introduce kids to concepts of sustainability, farming, and whole, healthy, locally sourced foods. September has been kale and we’ve had cold kale salads with black beans, brown rice, tomatoes and corn, warm “beans and greens” with white beans, tomatoes and seasonings, and kale chips. Each week there are a handful that refuse to try the offerings but the overwhelming majority have loved the recipes and many come back for seconds and even thirds. On more than one occasion I’ve been told “It’s about time” and “Thank you for giving us something that looks good that we want to eat.”

Yesterday I got to work behind the line as I served a warm kale dish and it enabled me to gain a new perspective into the challenges the cafeteria workers face on a daily basis.

Time Constraints

This is a big one. My daughter’s school actually has a long lunch period, 40 minutes, but many schools have only 20. Even in the 40 minute lunch period you have throngs of hungry students lining up all at once and the cafeteria worker has a few seconds to take their order, plate it and move on to the next. To increase the challenge our cafeteria offers a surprising number of options; deli sandwiches, the hot meal, a salad bar, or the vegetarian “fun lunch”. It is the cafeteria workers job to run back and forth and get the kids the items they want.


When the number one job is to get all students fed quickly,  presentation is going to be a challenge. When you add to that the quality and type of food being offered, often canned or prepackaged processed foods, you have an even greater challenge. The meatloaf and and watery vegetables that I saw in the line yesterday looked like something you might expect to see in a wedding banquet room in a Motel 6, and that’s what the cafeteria staff have to work with. They also use cheap, flimsy cardboard trays that leaked or completely disintegrated under the weight of the food yesterday.

What Required

During the course of our four lunch periods I heard the cafeteria staff in weary voices remind the kids numerous times  to take a fruit or vegetable. It’s not because they are overly concerned about the proper nutrition each kid is getting, it’s because the Federal Govt requires students to take all the elements of a healthy lunch to get monetary reimbursement for  participation in the lunch program. It doesn’t matter if the student throws the food  in the garbage, in fact, they had a garbage can positioned very conveniently at the exit of the lunch line for what appeared to be this exact purpose.

What isn’t Required

Proper pay and health benefits. The cafeteria worker that I worked along side yesterday had been at the school for 9 years. Her job has always been part time (so the district doesn’t have to pay benefits), and her low hourly salary doesn’t allow her to make ends meet. She works two jobs back to back, both in the district and both low pay and without benefits so that she can pay the bills. It was amazing to me that she had stayed in her positions as long as she had.

Dream for the Future

With the introduction of programs such as Farm to School we are making small strides in the right direction towards bringing farm fresh, local foods into our cafeterias. It’s a great start but as I observed yesterday, so much more needs to be done. The job of the cafeteria worker needs to be full time with benefits. They should also receive culinary training and food education so they feel they have the tools for success and a stake in the process of feeding thousands of kids on a daily basis.

Anyone whose ever complained about a school lunch or had a child who has complained about a school lunch should advocate for these changes and work in whatever capacity they see fit towards a redesign of our food system that we all know is long overdue.

Keeping it Real With Condoms

images-3I’m finding a lot of good stuff to bring to people’s attention today. I also like to write about condoms which you might have noticed. In the article below there’s a 14 year old’s response to a condom survey. I guess the teacher wasn’t too happy  but I’ll  bet it would speak to a group of her peers.

Check this one out too. There was an outbreak of chlamydia in a school that teaches kids to practice abstinence. Hmm… think they’re curriculum is affective? The condoms in their community certainly aren’t.

We’ve really got to wake up and change the way we educate our kids about sexual health.

Giving Students A Voice


I hear a lot about what’s wrong with our public education system in NYS from teachers, board members, and people in our state and local government. It’s usually delivered as a messy tangle of invective, finger pointing and name calling and it gets us nowhere. I’m always amazed by how infrequently I hear the voices of the students, many of whom are dealing with peer pressure, lack of resources, no parental support and teachers who have given up on them. If we would all stop and listen to the kids I think we’d find a very clear message of what their challenges are and how they affect school performance.

Below is a link to something our District is doing to give the kids a voice. Take a minute to listen then propose it to your District.

I Wish My Teacher Knew….

This article was a tough read but so revealing of the issues that kids face outside of the classroom. Depression, absentee parenting, lack of money for food and school supplies, we can’t ignore the fact that these issues can directly affect behavior in the classroom. I wish all teachers would give their students this assignment.

School Lunches!

BlogLunchroompicsI make a lot of school lunches for my daughters because they refuse to eat what their schools offer. Over the years there was one exception to this lunch mandate where my daughter was considered “one of the kids who buy” but it didn’t really count because she happened to have a bagged lunch that day too. The reason she didn’t eat it you ask? Because her lunch contained a chocolate coin,  a very special chocolate coin from the North Pole, given to her by her Christmas Elf. When she unwrapped the chocolate,  worms that turn into pantry moths fell onto her lap. I learned of this incident not because she told me, she was far to traumatized, but because I got a call from the teacher. That’s right. A CALL FROM THE TEACHER who told me my daughter would be considered a “kid who buys” that day.  Of course I was mortified but that was the day I found out what it would take for my daughter to eat a school lunch; a worm infested piece of chocolate.


The thing is my daughter doesn’t realize how good she’s got it with her school cafeteria but she’s so jaded by what she hears of her sister’s lunch room offerings that she flat out refuses to buy. She goes to a charter school that is not a part of a big District whose main source of funding for the lunch program is the Federal Government. Her school has more control of what they serve and the local produce truck brings fresh fruits and vegetables in on a regular basis. They have a light filled cafeteria with small tables where the kids can gather with their friends in a communal style. They have a person they call “chef” as opposed to “the lunch lady” who makes appealing sounding items like souvlaki: Greek salad with tomatoes, feta, lentils, and whole wheat pita wedges, and vegetarian stir fry with brown rice, roasted carrots, yogurt and fresh fruit. Compare this to our District’s offerings: chicken patty on a bun, potato, mashed fresh vegetable blend, assorted fresh or chilled fruit. The alternative “Fun Lunch” is a peanut butter and jelly on white bread.

UnknownI can distinctly envision what the lunch tray would look like with these items and it’s hardly appealing. I’m assuming it’s a typo but “mashed fresh vegetable blend” instead of “mashed potatoes” doesn’t sound too good either. What about the “Fun Lunch”, a peanut butter and jelly offered as the alternative choice every single day. I guess because it’s called a “fun lunch” it’s supposed to bring a certain amount of happiness to the kids who eat it, but if I were to walk into a school cafeteria I doubt that I’d find too many students having a knee slappin’ good time with their monotonous “fun lunch”. Regardless, this is what the kids have grown accustomed to and the meals are free or reduced cost for many so who’s to complain?

The move towards a free or low cost school lunch program began during the Depression Era as a means of feeding hungry kids whose families lacked resources. It was also an opportunity for the Government to help farmers with their surplus foods. In the 1940’s it gained further momentum when it became evident that young draftees to the war were being rejected for service because they had poor nutrition. All of this led to the adoption of the National School Lunch Act by Congress.

Since that time the NSLP has fed millions of children and it continues to do so but those numbers are declining. The program currently finds itself in turmoil because of an overreaching Federal Government with severely restrictive nutritional guidelines, and a growing interest in fresh, local foods as opposed to processed, prepackaged options.

Healthy! Hunger Free!

In 2010 the Healthy Hunger-Free Act was passed as a means of reducing burgeoning obesity rates by reducing calories and incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and grains. As you can imagine these new requirements were not well received and they also had seemingly ridiculous implications. Schools that had salad bars were forced to remove them because there was no way to control portion size, kids walked around hungry because the caloric intake for 5th graders and 8th graders were considered equal, tomato paste became a vegetable so for profit companies could continue to sell their pizza, and ketchup on a cracker was deemed acceptable as a serving of grains and vegetable. Additionally, Districts faced high costs for implementation, low participation rates and lots of waste.

In one study of the Boston Public Schools it was “estimated that $432,349.05 worth of food is wasted monthly”. The study went further to estimate that on an annual basis, that number would be about $1,238,846,000 annually. Not only is the waste due to the fact that kids aren’t familiar with the new healthier foods and therefore not willing to try them, but there is also a requirement that kids must take all components of the healthy lunch for the District to be reimbursed. If a student doesn’t want everything on the tray the other items go into the garbage.

Unknown-1Although the acceptance of healthier foods in students’ diets has been a challenge, what’s come out of it has been a growing movement in school communities towards farm fresh foods prepared by scratch. Kids are becoming educated about healthy foods and are learning more and more about what local means.  With school gardens popping up and farm to school initiatives taking hold in our communities, kids are learning about what real apples straight from a local farm taste and look like as opposed to the prepackaged apple slices trucked in from other parts of the country. They’re starting to understand that if the “fresh mixed vegetables” that their cafeterias feed them come from a can and not a farm or the local produce market they probably shouldn’t be called fresh.

This speaks to the need for a complete overhaul of school food service, as we know it. Kids need to be educated as to what local, farm fresh food is and they need to have more access to it. Meals should take place in cafeteria environments that are bright and inviting and conducive to a positive experience. Lunch ladies should be treated more as chefs and be given the proper culinary training and tools such as fully functioning kitchens to make them successful in their work environments. Kids should also be allowed to contribute to the lunchroom experience by acting as chefs for the week, creating recipes, or partaking in behind the line taste testing. Additionally we need to be thinking outside the box when it comes to the Federal Government subsidies. If school Districts opt out of the NSLP could we look to different partners for private funding or grants to subsidize the program instead so we’d have more control over what our cafeterias offer?

It seems evident that what is needed is new collaborations and an increase in the stakeholder base to achieve the common goal of appealing, fresh, healthy food for all kids. Something as important as proper nutrition for healthy kids needs to be considered a necessity and a basic right, and it should not be deemed unattainable because of  government regulations and big for profit corporations.