Thanksgiving Gratitude!

As I’m sure is the case for many of you, this time of year always makes me stop and think a little longer about what I’m thankful for. I’ll share a few of my thoughts with you – please feel free to add on!

I am grateful for:

  • The creative, committed, enthusiastic, loyal staff members who work with our children, adults, and their families
  • An organization that is always striving to improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities through the latest technology, research, programming, and training
  • The children and adults themselves, who remind me every day that life is precious, and that each of us is given our challenges, but also have gifts to offer.
  • A supportive family, through good times and bad
  • A community that comes together to show support for multiple causes
  • Good health
  • A son who has taught me much and helped me to grow in numerous ways
  • A country founded on the values of freedom and liberty for all

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


gratitude present

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Public Schools’ Challenges

In Tuesday’s blog, I discussed some of the bright points in education. So, I thought that I’d follow up with what I see are some of the major challenges facing public schools. books


Technorati reported last fall that 22 percent of the children in the U.S. live at or below poverty level. In 17 states, low-income students now comprise the majority of public school students. We know that students living at or below poverty level tend to have the highest dropout rates. When students do not get enough food or sleep, they are less likely to perform at their full academic potential.


Bullying is not a new problem, but it is one that has a profound impact on the learning aptitude of many students today. Unfortunately, technology, through social networking, texting and other virtual interactions has brought even more opportunities for bullying.

Student Health

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., and the same poor eating habits that led to the obesity problem may also be contributing to lower student achievement. Obesity also increases a student’s risk for other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. This can result in higher absenteeism which leads to other academic issues.

We as communities face many challenges with public education. Now is the time for educators, parents and lawmakers to come together and begin to find solutions.

Our future is our children…teach them well!

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What Public Education Really Looks Like

This week is American Education Week, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education. This year’s theme is “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility,” and will be reflected in special observances each day of the weeklong celebration.

In honor of this, I thought I would let the numbers speak for themselves and share some statistics of the current state of the American Public Education System. Pew Research Center has found today’s American students as a whole to be more diverse – and on track to be better educated – than their parents and grandparents. Very interesting, and in some cases, eye-opening!

  • Roughly 53.5 million K-12 students will head to the classroom in 2015, to:
    • 129,200 schools across the country
    • including approximately 5,700 charter schools and 30,900 private schools
  • About 1.3 million children are expected to attend public prekindergarten, bringing the total enrollment to approximately 3.7 million students
  • About 4.1 million public school students are expected to enroll in 9th grade in fall 2015
  • America’s K-12 students are more racially diverse than ever, due largely to fast growth in the number of Hispanic and Asian school-age children born in the U.S.
  • Students today are more likely to stay in school. As of 2013, America’s high school dropout rate had reached a record low: Just 6.8% of 16- to 24-year-olds that year had dropped out of high school, down from 10.9% in 2000.
  • America’s students have improved in math and science over the past 20 years – but remain behind students in many other industrialized nations. The United States ranks 35th out of 64 countries in math and 27th in science, according to a cross-national test known as PISA.
  • Americans are critical of the quality of the nation’s K-12 science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction: Only 29% believe U.S. STEM education is above average or the best in the world, and 29% say it is below average.
  • At the same time, Americans believe math and science skills are less critical to success than communication and reading skills: 90% say communication is one of the most important skills for American children to get ahead, while 79% name math and only 58% name science.
  • Millennials are on track to be the most educated generation to date, in part because of gains for women. Millennial women are nearly four times as likely as women in the Silent generation to have a bachelor’s degree at the minimum.
  • Public school systems will employ about 3.1 million full-time teachers in fall 2015, making the average pupil/teacher ratio 16:0.
  • Current expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools are projected to be $634 billion for the 2015–16 school year. This includes salaries and benefits for school personnel, student transportation, school books and materials, and energy costs.
  • The current expenditure per student is projected at $12,605 for the 2015–16 school year
  • About 3.3 million students are expected to graduate from high school in 2015–16, including 3.0 million students from public high schools and about 0.3 million students from private high schools
  • The percentage of students enrolling in college in the fall immediately following high school completion was 65.9 percent in 2013

I don’t know about you, but I found many of these to be very encouraging! Of course, there is always more that can be done. In Thursday’s blog, I will share some of the areas I’d love to see us grow in.


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National Philanthropy Day

philIn keeping with this week’s theme of kindness, I wanted to acknowledge another upcoming nationally recognized day – National Philanthropy Day. Every year on November 15th, thousands of people around the world come together to celebrate philanthropy in all forms, whether it’s giving, volunteering, or engaging in acts of charity.

Philanthropy has long been active in our organization. BNI began in 1952 when a group of Erie men and women declared that children with disabilities deserve an education. At that point, schools did not welcome children with disabilities. Families’ only options were to keep their youngster at home, or send them to an institution. These men and women gave their time, energy, and financial support to this cause, and as a result, established the first special education classrooms.

Today, hundreds of volunteers support the BNI through fundraisers, participating in parent group, and signing on as a classroom assistant, to name a few. Many of our employees also generously donate a portion of their paycheck to our Employee Service Fund, which donates funds to non-profit organizations as well as families in need.

National Philanthropy was first recognized in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan proclaimed November 15th as National Philanthropy Day. Since that day, communities across the globe have celebrated by hosting events to recognize activities of donors, volunteers, foundations, leaders, corporations, and others engaged in philanthropy.

KrauzaIn Erie, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Northwestern PA Chapter, holds an annual luncheon to honor philanthropists and philanthropic organizations. Our nominee, Dr. Steven Krauza, was selected for the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser for his incredible volunteer efforts toward a number of events, including Barber Beast on the Bay.

We are a better society and world because of the philanthropic efforts of many. After all, philanthropy is “the love of humankind!”

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Celebrate World Kindness Day!

Instead of recognizing Friday the 13th this week, consider focusing on World Kindness Day instead! This day is a chance to focus on and celebrate the many benefits of practicing kindness. By creating a caring environment in our homes, our schools, and our communities, we give children the opportunity to establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations effectively. kindness

Research shows that kindness does improve behavior and academic success. And did you know that kindness exponentially fosters more kindness? In a similar study, researchers have shown that a single act of generosity can influence dozens more; in other words, kindness is contagious.

If you are interested in working this idea into your lesson plan, or even just for an activity at home, take a look at some of the great resources available from The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, which include lesson plans, activities, and other projects.

Share your plans to celebrate World Kindness Day within your family or classroom… and keep the kindness spreading!

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National Career Development Month!

Each year, the National Career Development Association hosts National Career Development Month in November. During NCD Month, each state is encouraged to promote career related activities and events through the state divisions. The Ohio career Development Association (OCDA) invites you to celebrate with us this year! career-development

In October, the Barber National Institute celebrated the success of adults who have found community employment and have begun their careers.

Since January 2015, the Supported Employment Program at the Barber National Institute has helped 28 individuals get hired for jobs with employers in the community. The adults have been invited back to talk to others who are still training for jobs in the Transitional Work Service Program. Marycarmen Walker, the operations supervisor for Supported Employment, said:

We will welcome back these adults who all have worked very hard to achieve their dream of employment. It is a great opportunity to share their experiences in the community with all of us, and share any advice to their peers who still seek and wait for the day when they can announce “I got a job!”

The Supported Employment Program assists adults with physical and intellectual disabilities with everything from assessing their skills and interests to developing resumes and preparing for job interviews. Once employment has been found, job coaches assist with training and remain at the worksite until all duties are completed to the satisfaction of the employer.

This year, individuals found employment in the housekeeping, food service, and manufacturing fields.

The Supported Employment program at the Barber National Institute began in 1986. Since then, more than 700 adults with disabilities have been placed in jobs in the community.

Statistics released by the Department of Labor in September show that the unemployment rate for adults with disabilities is 12.3 percent, more than double that for people without disabilities.

At BNI, we celebrate all of our adults for working hard to develop their careers!BNI Logo

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November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month!

Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological disease after migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease, affecting about 2 million people in the United States. Characterized by recurrent and unprovoked seizures, epilepsy remains misunderstood and discriminated against by the general public, and underfunded in research initiatives.

It is estimated that as many as 1 in 3 individuals with autism spectrum disorder also have epilepsy. Experts propose that some of the brain abnormalities that are associated with autism may contribute to seizures. These abnormalities can cause changes in brain activity by disrupting neurons in the brain.epilepsy

Although epilepsy can occur at any age, the condition is more likely to begin among children less than 2 years of age and adults older than 65 years. As do many who live with other chronic disorders, those with epilepsy often face challenges related to managing epilepsy treatment, symptoms, disability, lifestyle limitations, emotional stress, and stigma.

There are numerous support and research groups on epilepsy. One of the most prominent is the CDC’s Managing Epilepsy Well (MEW) Network. MEW Network members, including representatives from U.S. universities, community-based organizations, and CDC are working together to develop and test self-management programs and tools that help people with epilepsy better manage their disorder and improve their quality of life.

Each community chooses to recognize Epilepsy Awareness Month differently. In Erie, we have Paint Erie Purple, #AJO project, and Noble Night, a fundraiser by our local non-profit The Epilepsy Project.

For more information on how you can get involved, visit these sites:

The Epilepsy Project:

MEW Network:


Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern PA:

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