Every year, I like to remind parents of small children the importance of limiting gifts from "Santa." As parents, we all love to see the innocence, and sheer joy Santa brings to our homes on Christmas morning. Every year I ask that gifts from Santa be limited because not every child receives loads of gifts from him. When elementary students go back to school after Christmas, they often compare what Santa brought them. There is tremendous sadness and hurt feelings when one student receives a huge amount of gifts from Santa, and one poorer child received very little or nothing at all. I lived through feeling like Santa didn't care about me as much as he did the other students. I asked my mom and dad why "Santa liked the other kids better." My mom will tell you that it broke her heart to hear that. I'm sure she gave me an answer that made me feel a little better, but I can't remember it. What I do remember is feeling like Santa didn't love me as much as he loved the other kids. Please consider those less fortunate when giving gifts from Santa.

Attached are a few pictures of the food drive. We appreciate the Fremont PD and all the other local law enforcement agencies in Newaygo County helping us with our food drive. The first picture shows Officer Hendrie with a load of food and an envelope of donations. The officers didn't have time to shop for canned goods so they are going to have our students do it for them. We appreciate it greatly and so do the food banks! The second picture is of Yuridia Ochoa, Emma Bush and Officer Hendrie.

The January edition of High School Years is attached. My thoughts are contained in the yellow boxes. If you move your cursor over them, they should expand.

A note on smartphone apps from the New York Times:
Guidance for Educators and Parents on Educational Apps
In this New York Times article, Tara Haelle quotes Ellen Wartella, director of the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University: “There really does need to be some sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval to say this is a good app, but we don’t have that yet.” While we wait for authoritative guidance, Haelle suggests that teachers and parents apply these criteria when appraising apps that claim to be educational:
• Does it have clearly defined, measurable objectives that build on existing skills?
• Does it connect new learning to existing knowledge?
• Can kids transfer what they learn to real life?
• Does it actively engage the child? Is it fun?
• Is it empowering for kids? Is it an active versus a passive experience?
• Does it have features that make it socially interactive?
• Is it adaptive, adjusting to errors and giving feedback as kids play with it?
• Does it have distractions that interrupt the learning experience?
“When an app is well-designed, with a clear goal to support a skill and clear target audience,” says Jessica Taylor Piotrowski of the Center for Research on Children, Adolescents, and the Media at the University of Amsterdam, “and really relies on these principles of being active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive, it works, it absolutely works. But some of these apps are playful experiences that enable creativity and problem-solving, and they can be just as valuable.”

Haelle goes on to suggest several questions that educators and parents should ask about apps as they pick and choose from hundreds of possibilities:
• Does the app seem right for its users? This involves watching kids playing with the app and seeing where it falls on the continuum from serious learning to just play.

• Who created it? Pretty much anything from PBS is going to be high-quality, says Haelle. With other companies, see if educators were involved in the development process. Big names like Disney and Nickelodeon don’t always produce good educational apps, while some little-known companies like Tinybop have some excellent products.

• Trust the experts. Common Sense Media is a good source of information on apps, says Haelle. Children’s Technology Review (Ctrex) also does helpful reviews, often including video clips of the app in action.

• Does it have advertising or in-app purchases? PBS apps are free with no strings attached, but others support themselves with commercial links. Poptropica, for example, is a fun app with some educational content, but it can seem like “one long advertisement for Kellogg brand cereals,” says David Hill, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Some apps offer a “freemium” app that lets users download a partial version to try before paying for the full-featured version.

• Does the app protect children’s privacy? Be wary of apps that ask for too much information on a child. Products for children under 13 should be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). But anonymity is a double-edged sword, warns Haelle. “In social apps, complete anonymity can open the door to bullying if kids don’t feel accountable for their words.” Does the app make it easy to report abuse? Roblox is an example of an app with multiple safeguards for kids.

• Does the app do something only an app can do? Flashcards and worksheets are a waste of technology. A good app should “bring to life an experience that’s impossible to create off screen,” says Christine Elgersma of Common Sense Media. Examples include these Tinybop apps: The Earth, Robot Factory, Space, Skyscrapers, and The Human Body. Another good one is Homer, a literacy app that allows kids to send their creations to approved family members and educators.

• Everything in moderation. How much app playing is too much? “It’s a question of balance over the course of the day,” says Wartella, who recommends technology-free zones such as mealtimes and bedtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a personalized family media use planning tool at www.Healthychildren.org. App use should make room for physical activity, homework, reading, and social interactions – and of course eating and sleeping.

• Co-play. There is some evidence that when children use an app with another person, there are more benefits than from solo use. When parents or teachers use an app with a child, there are additional benefits: “A parent can really be a bridge to transfer any learning an app has to the real world so it’s not isolated to a screen when the tablet cover is closed,” says Elgersma. “Co-use and co-play – that is one of the most powerful ways that apps can be educational.”
From her informal network of parents and educators, Haelle recommends several apps: RazKids, Dragonbox, Starfall, Bedtime Math, IXL apps, Scribblenauts, Endless Alphabet, Spelling City, TumbleBooks, Epic!, and ABC Mouse.
“How to Decide Which Educational Apps Make the Grade” by Tara Haelle in The New York Times, December 7, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/smarter-living/educational-apps-kids.html

Scott Sherman
It's A Great Day To Be A Packer!

Support Information
Arbor Circle in Newaygo County: http://www.arborcircle.org/programs-services
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 24/7 trained support
Crisis Text Line for Teens Text "Listen" to 741-741 24/7 trained support
Please remember to remind your child to report any neglect or bullying they see.