Tag Archives: academic

Laura Kirschenbaum

January 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laura Kirshenbaum is a straight-A student, but it is not good grades that her mother talks about first when describing her daughter’s scholarly accomplishments.

“It’s comments that teachers make. It’s wonderful hearing about how she treats others and how she is respectful to teachers. They say that she’s an active listener in class, that she’s kind and courteous. That’s what I’m proud about,” Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum says. “You may have it in your DNA that these things are easier than for other people, or you learn at a faster pace. That may be a gift with you, but what do you do with it? Some people may have an ego with it, but Laura doesn’t. She’s grateful for what she has and is highly motivated.”

Kirshenbaum, an eighth-grader at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in the Omaha Public School District, admits to being a fast learner but says her excellent grades in her honors classes don’t come effortlessly. “I work hard for that,” she says.

And she definitely prefers some subjects over others. “My top subject would definitely be math,” she says. “But I love science, too: chemistry, physics, and astronomy.”

Kirshenbaum has no shortcuts to academic success to share, she says. Being a good student means being diligent: finishing the assignments, completing the reading, following directions. It also helps to have good organizational skills that ensure she’s always prepared. “I turn homework in on time and I try to stay on top of things,” she explains. “I’m proud of that.”

She even enjoys learning outside of the classroom, watching informational YouTube channels in her spare time, and competing in multiple academic events like Quiz Bowl, Science Bowl, Math Counts, Academic Pentathlon, and Book Blasters. She has an artistic side, too, that brings some balance to student life—Kirshenbaum is active in dance (ballet, modern, and jazz) and plays the violin, even performing in the orchestra pit for Omaha Public Schools’ summer musical Peter Pan in 2016.

“I also do a lot of acting,” she adds. “I’ve been in a lot of the school plays, and I’ve done some community theater as well.”

She’s even managed to make time for volleyball and local volunteering at a food bank and a homeless shelter. Two summers ago, she was a classroom helper at Jackson Elementary School. Because she’s an honors student, she is also eligible to tutor fellow students. “I like being able to help others,” she says.

Kirshenbaum says her future plans absolutely include college, which her mother and father (Matt Kirshenbaum) like to hear. It may be a little early to start choosing a particular institution, but judging by the scholarly aptitude she’s demonstrated so far, it’s clear that she’s going to be able to take her pick of schools—and programs of study—upon graduation four years from now.

“I see myself becoming a chemist,” she says. “Or a college professor in math or science.”

This article was printed in the Winter 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Alternatives to Grade-level Retention

January 19, 2014 by

Retaining (or flunking) students who have not mastered the skills and content of a specific grade level in school is not a recommended practice, yet this “solution” keeps popping up—most recently as a legislative initiative. The bill, discussed for the 2014 Unicameral calendar, would force school districts to hold back any student that could not read by the end of third grade. Retention is based on an erroneous belief that students repeating the same grade level will “catch up” academically. Social promotion, which focuses on advancing students to the next grade regardless of their academic performance, is the common practice.

While neither option sounds appealing, the evidence against the use of retention is compelling. It is also imperative that parents and elected officials have access to this information as they consider appropriate measures to help all students achieve.

There are a few circumstances where retention is considered appropriate. The first is when a student has experienced extended or frequent absences that resulted in a significant loss of learning. The second is when a student starts kindergarten at a young age and appears to be struggling socially and academically.

Grade-level retention (or even the threat of it) is one of the few educational practices with almost no research to support its continued use. In fact, there are warnings regarding the severe long-term consequences of retention. Students may initially show a slight increase in performance when state tests are used as the measure of improvement, but student progress rapidly fades and improvement is replaced by an even greater sense of failure and frustration. As a result, retained students generally have a higher-than-average dropout rate, continued academic struggles, difficulty with peers, and lower self-esteem. Studies show that retention is the second greatest factor predicting which students will drop out.

Alternatives to retention that are supported by the National Association of School Psychologists and most schools tend to include extended academic programs such as after-school tutoring or summer school. Schools could also recommend frequent monitoring of a student’s progress through an individualized academic plan and consider additional supports provided by educational specialists.