Safely Ensconced? Maybe It's Time to Break Loose

I readily agree that there are times when it is pleasant, relaxing, and refreshing to be safely ensconced. It nice to go home, sit down and let worries wander into the air. It is enjoyable to take off on a vacation with no tethering to the busy world of work by cutting the electronic tethers. It is joyous, at times, to state, "Not my problem" and then walk off into a distant realm. But what happens when this safety and distance becomes the norm and everyone looks out for him/herself while ignoring the plight of others?

Currently there are many national and worldwide issues that should strike at our hearts and minds and motivate us to action. The immigrant crisis in Europe is one frightening scene, with hundreds of thousands of displaced persons seeking asylum, the chance to live life in peace. Although some may rant about ending all abortions regardless of the safety to the mother and the child, have they looked at the extenuating circumstances that might bring a mother to such a decision or the consequences of unwanted babies? People rage about the Affordable Health Care Act but they refuse to offer a better solution as they ignore those in need by denying medical services. Safely ensconced in individual bubbles, many decline to glance around in all directions before making a blanket statement, thinking of their own personal beliefs with disregard to the right of others to hold different beliefs.

What action can you take to make a difference in your community, county, and state? There must be something that is bugging you that requires your attention and energy. Finding that special drive moves you from safety, to be sure, as you are nudged from "ensconcement" into a place of movement and action. Change takes time and effort but with a supporting friend or group, you may be able to change current conditions into wonderful new opportunities. You just have to think, research, think some more, and then reach out and react.

Last evening we held a Town Hall meeting on driving and dementia. We drug the proverbial "elephant" out of the closet and into the limelight as we discussed other conditions that lead to impaired driving such as a stroke, how to stop dangerous drivers (demented or otherwise) from having a license renewed, and what to do to help these former drivers remain independent without the freedom of wheels. It was great to listen to panelists and then to hear from community members concerning what we have in place now and where we need and want to go next. For example, the hospital has advanced Telemedicine to alleviate long drives to medical services and is also working on paramedic, in-home health services. Local entities are seeking volunteers to act as drivers, conversation buddies, and errand runners to help those who are unable to complete tasks alone or who just need a friend to stave off loneliness and depression.

Local citizens discussed making our city age-friendly with bike paths and more civic performances and volunteer opportunities. The latter is a tremendous way to permit people to give to others while enriching their personal well-being. Safely ensconced folks are now moved to action - maybe just a tiny bit, perhaps only a baby step, but these are movements forward to improve quality of life. What calling is ringing in your ears to make a difference in our town?
By Gini Cunningham

In Crisis Mode: Excessive Student Absences and Truancy

Under President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, billions of tax dollars have been spent "reforming" public education. Their efforts include the Race to the Top ($4.35 billion all by itself), charter schools, the Common Core State Standards, the Common Core-related online assessments, charter schools, Teacher Improvement Grants and on and on. The result: Student performance still lags and teacher morale has plummeted.

Meanwhile, not on the reform agenda are the effects of poverty, inadequate parenting, rampant absenteeism, and truancy on schooling. And, although September was Attendance Awareness Month, it went pretty much unnoticed.

The bottom line: Kids can't learn if not in class, and absences, in turn, negatively affect grades, standardized test scores,behavior, graduation rates, and more. As the Center for American Progress puts it: "Education has long been seen as the means to prosperity, but that only happens if students attend school."

And apparently large numbers of them are staying away. In fact, of the some 50 million kids enrolled in our country's public schools, 5 to 7.5 million are "chronically absent." In other words, they miss 20 days or more every year.

Writes The Washington Post's Emma Brown: "The nation's large and persistent achievement gaps are rooted in a largely hidden crisis of chronic absenteeism from school, especially among low income and minority children."

Moreover, it starts at a surprisingly young age. As Attendance Works reports, about 10% of kindergartners miss at least 18 days of school. That translates to almost an entire month of their first-ever public school year.

That same report found that, "Poor attendance is among our first and best warning signs that a student has missed the on-ramp to school success and is headed off track for graduation... "

Seems the powers might have missed such reports.

Meanwhile, in addition to impacting poor academic achievement and the dropout rate, the American Bar Association's Youth at Risk Commission finds that truancy is associated with:
  • Increased odds of first-time substance abuse and middle school drug use starting with marijuana.
  • Higher rates of daytime crimes, such as vandalism and assaults.
  • The likelihood of nonviolent and violent offenses by the young.
  • Teen pregnancies
Such findings have now prompted superintendents around the country to join forces and sign Attendance Works' Call to Action. Acknowledging that up to 7.5 million children miss nearly a month of school every year, they say they are:
  1. "Prioritizing Attendance: We are making reducing chronic absence a top priority in our district from the superintendent to the teachers, from the school staff to the families.
  2. Mobilizing the Community: We are making student attendance a broadly owned and widely shared civic priority. That includes engaging families and tapping civic and elected leaders, local businesses, health providers, housing authorities, clergy members, and more.
  3. Driving with Data: We are using data to determine how many and which students are chronically absent in each grade, school, and population. And we are intervening to ensure absences don't add up."
Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, so far only Ken Cherry, head of the Dover Area School District, and Pittsburgh Public Schools' Linda Lane have reportedly joined the movement. That's right; just two and neither hails from Philadelphia where about 15,000 of its students miss school each day-50% of them without an excuse!

In fact, in the 2014-15 school year, more than 11,700 Philadelphia students were truant, with 37% of them (4,332) in grades K-8.

Meanwhile, research conducted by the Philadelphia Education Fund and Johns Hopkins University, in conjunction with the district, found that kids who attend less than 80% of the time stand only a 10% to 20% chance of graduating on time.

And here's another Philly fact: 40% of all of its students drop out, and, currently, it's on-time graduation rate stands at just 65%, up from 2008's lowly 58%.

Plus, more bad news awaits. That's because, back in 2008, then Governor Rendell called for Graduation Competency Assessments-actually ten of them. These ultimately morphed into the three Keystone Exams covering biology, algebra I, and literature. Implementation kicks in as a graduation requirement in the 2016-17 school year, with a recent district report suggesting that only 22% of the Class of 2017 will, therefore, graduate on time.

No wonder, then, that Philly schools are "expected to make significant and sufficient efforts to curb truancy" by:
  • Conferencing with caregivers after no more than three unexcused absences
  • Engaging all of a school's social and academic supports along the way to the tenth unexcused absence
  • Having ten unexcused absences lead to Truancy Court where children and their families appear before a Master and ultimately before a judge if attendance doesn't improve, every 60 to 90 days to review and report on progress.
  • Having truancy case managers, together with community-based providers, try to discover the causes and develop an improvement plan with the family using multiple resources to address and remove the barriers to good attendance.
Truth be told, however, although Philly's is now one of the country's "most sophisticated truancy response systems"--the problem still persists. That's why District Attorney Seth Williams now wants to step in and send letters to the families of kids with ten or more unexcused absences threatening criminal charges unless things improve.

In a recent interview, he explained, "I want the District Attorney's office to be the hammer for [Superintendent] Hite or the administrative judges in Family Court or [the Department of Human Services]." He also said that he doesn't want to prosecute or criminalize parents, just motivate them.

Looks like he might not get a chance, however. District officials say that, because of federal privacy laws, they are prohibited from sharing certain student information. According to Karyn Lynch, head of student support services, "If we could find a way, we would certainly do this."

Stay tuned but don't expect schools and concerned politicians like Seth William to do all the heavy lifting. It all starts at home and knowing your obligations under Pennsylvania's attendance and truancy laws, such as:
  1. Children between the ages of 8 and 17 must attend school; in Philly, the start age is 6.
  2. A child's caretaker-parent, guardian, relative, or foster parent-is legally responsible for ensuring a child's attendance.
  3. Most districts excuse absences for illness, emergencies, a family member's death, medical/dental appointments, school activities, and approved educational travel.
  4. A parent note is required for even one day's absence; when due to illness, a doctor's note is to be sent, if possible.
  5. A request in writing to the school principal is required to excuse a child for a religious holiday or instruction.
  6. A max of 10 cumulative excused absences is permitted in any given year; more than that requires a doctor's note.
Then, on the home front, make schooling everyone's top priority, and...
  1. Make sure all homework gets done accurately; if frustration is noted, contact the appropriate teacher(s)
  2. Set a reasonable time, keeping in mind that teens need about 9 hours a night.
  3. At bedtime, keep all electronics in the kitchen. Screen light can suppress the hormone melatonin, key to falling asleep. Have them book it, instead.
  4. Delay wake-up time as long as possible and have a quick but healthy breakfast at the ready, packed school bag waiting by the door.
  5. Accept only illness as a stay home excuse, not tiredness or unpreparedness.
  6. Insist that all family members get their flu shot and required vaccines.
  7. Schedule all dentist, doctor appointments, and such after, not during, school hours.
  8. When sick, have your child ask a friend to collect all missed work and drop it off or leave it in the main office for pickup.
In other words, be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Carol is a learning specialist who worked with middle school children and their parents at the Methacton School District in Pennsylvania for more than 25 years and now supervises student teachers at Gwynedd-Mercy University and Ursinus College. Along with the booklet, 149 Parenting School-Wise Tips: Intermediate Grades & Up, and numerous articles in such publications as Teaching Pre-K-8 and Curious Parents, she has authored three successful learning guidebooks: Getting School-Wise: A Student Guidebook, Other-Wise and School-Wise: A Parent Guidebook, and ESL Activities for Every Month of the School Year. Carol also writes for; find her articles at For more information, go to

Top 10 Questions about Body Piercing

Body piercing has grown so much in popularity in recent years that it has become almost mainstream, with more and more people sporting navel rings and multiple ear rings. Facial piercings, surface piercings and lots of others to choose from can make things confusing. If you don't know what to expect when you decide to get a piercing, it can be even more intimidating. Here are some of the top questions people have about body piercing. 1. I want to get a body piercing. How much will it cost? The cost of a body piercing varies depending on several factors, including where you're located, how close to a major city you are, and what kind of piercing you're having done. Generally the more difficult the piercing, the higher the cost. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for as well, so don't depend entirely upon cost to choose your piercer. If a piercer is charging significantly under the market cost in your area, he may be cutting corners in areas he shouldn't, such as sterilization and other safety procedures. On average, the cost of piercings fall somewhere in these ranges:
  • Ears (lobes, cartilage, etc.).....anywhere from $25-$50
  • Navel...................................$45-$55
  • Tongue.................................$45-$55
  • Labret..................................$50-$60
  • Eyebrow................................$40-$50
  • Nipple...................................$45-$55
  • Nostril..................................$45-$55
  • Genital..................................$75-$100
2. Does it hurt? In simple terms, yes. Does it hurt much? Most people will tell you, "No, not really." It's usually more like a pinching or popping sensation than anything. The sensation of pain is relative--some people feel it more than others. The adrenalin rush of the piercing usually means the pain in minimal. After the initial pain when the needle goes through the piercing, you may feel some dull pain or an aching sensation for a few hours, which can be relieved with an over the counter pain reliever. One piercing that does hurt a bit more than others is the tongue piercing, which will swell and be sensitive for a few days. Ice chips and popsicles will help soothe the pain of this kind of new piercing. 3. How long does it take a body piercing to heal? The healing time for a body piercing varies depending upon what you've had pierced. Some parts of the body heal more quickly than others. For instance, if you pierce your earlobes, you can expect them to heal within two months and be ready for jewelry other than the original piercing jewelry. The belly button is in an area that heals slowly, however, because it's right where the body twists and turns, which slows the healing process. It also doesn't get as much air circulation because it is covered much of the time. It can take up to six months or even a year for a belly button piercing to heal completely. Some general healing times are:
  • Ear lobes..........6-8 weeks
  • Cartilage...........4-8 months
  • Eyebrow...........6-8 weeks
  • Nostril..............3-4 months
  • Septum.............6-8 months
  • Labret..............2-3 months
  • Tongue.............4-6 weeks
  • Nipple..............4-6 months
  • Navel...............5 months-1 year
  • Genitals............6 weeks-6 months
The better you care for a body piercing, the more quickly it will heal, so be sure to discuss the proper care of your piercing with the piercing professional who does your body piercing to ensure a quick, clean piercing and you will heal in the least amount of time possible. 4. How can I tell if a piercing is infected, or it's just normal healing stuff? All body piercings will have some drainage during the first several days. This is because you have basically given your body a puncture wound, and your body will bleed for a while, and then have drainage of some fluids as it heals. These fluids are actually good for you, as they keep the area moist and clean and will wash away some of the dirt and germs that might otherwise stay in the area. Bleeding should stop within a few hours or the first day and be only small amounts. Often it will look watery. Drainage will be mostly a clear, watery discharge, although it can sometimes be somewhat white in color. The drainage will form "crusties" around the jewelry that can be washed off with warm, soapy water when you clean your piercing each day. A piercing is infected when the discharge is either green or yellow. Also, if the area becomes swollen or inflamed again after the initial swelling has subsided. Any time you see green or yellow pus or discharge; you should see a doctor and get appropriate medical treatment. It won't necessarily mean you have to remove your piercing; you may simply have to take a course of antibiotics. If the area becomes red and inflamed with red streaks radiating out from the area, see a doctor right away. 5. What should I look for in a good body piercing studio? A good body piercing studio must first and foremost be clean, clean, and clean! The most common cause of infection is piercings is simple exposure to germs, so look for a piercing parlor that is very strict about its cleanliness and sterilization procedures. They should have a separate room where nothing else is done but piercings. They should always have an operational autoclave, which is a wet steam sterilization unit that is to be used to clean and sterilize all tools and equipment used during piercing. They should also pierce only with single-use, disposable needles that are pre-wrapped. Ask them if this is what they use, and insist that the needles not be opened until they are actually ready to do your piercing so that you can confirm they are sterile-wrapped. Look for experience and qualifications. Have all the piercers been through an apprenticeship program? If so, for how long did they train and where? Also make sure they are licensed to operate a piercing studio by their state's department of health. In most states this is now mandatory. Also check the date to make sure it isn't expired. Finally, look for a certificate of membership in a professional society such as the Association of Professional Piercers, an organization that supports safe and professional piercing practices and offers extensive ongoing training. 6. Why can't I just pierce myself? You can pierce yourself, but it's not really a good idea. It's simply too hard to keep the area in your own home (or wherever you happen to be) clean and sterile enough. You also may have trouble lining up and placing a piercing squarely where you want it, and if you lose your nerve half-way through the piercing, you're stuck with it half done. If you do it at home, you'll probably do it on an impulse, which will mean you won't have the right tools. Piercing needles are incredibly sharp in order to reduce the pain and make a good, clean cut. No matter how sharp that sewing needle is at home, it's not as sharp as a piercing needle, so it will hurt more, bleed more, and may not heal as cleanly. 7. What should I clean my piercing with? Today most professional piercers agree that the best way to clean a fresh piercing is with a mild antibacterial soap. These should not contain perfumes or dyes, which can irritate a piercing and lead to discomfort or an allergic reaction. There are a few on the market that are specifically designed for body piercings, including Provon® and Satin®. After cleaning, you should follow up with a sea salt water soak. Sea salt is available at natural health stores, piercing and tattoo studios and a variety of other stores. The sea salt solution helps soothe the area and draw impurities out of the wound to promote faster healing. H2Ocean is an excellent pre-mixed sea salt solution that can be sprayed on for ease of use. It's highly recommended by many professional piercers and is convenient especially if you're traveling or on the go. 8. What kind of jewelry should a piercing be done with? A body piercing is, in the simplest terms, a puncture wound, so you want to use a high quality metal that won't react with your body chemistry to create an allergic reaction or contaminate the open wound. Never use cheap or base metals to get a body piercing. The best metals to use are titanium or surgical steel, both or which are essentially inert and won't react with your body. In some cases, you can use high quality gold, but even this sometimes creates a reaction because of the nickel content, so do be cautious. Once a piercing is completely healed, you have more leeway on what you can use, but if you are at all nickel sensitive, you will probably always have to stick with surgical steel and titanium for your body piercings, unless you are using alternatives such as glass, which is completely non-reactive and safe for nearly everyone. 9. What causes migration? Is it the same as rejection? Rejection is a more severe form of migration. Migration is when a body piercing begins to move through the flesh because the body is trying to force it out of the skin and get rid of it. In some cases, the body only partially succeeds, and the piercing "migrates" so that it ends up being crooked or misaligned. When the body completely forces a piercing out of the body, it is called a "rejection," because the body has completely rejected the piece of jewelry, basically "spitting it out." This is because any piercing jewelry is a foreign object that the body sees as an invader to be gotten rid of, especially if the piercing is poorly done so that the jewelry aggravates the skin tissues. 10. What if I want to become a professional piercer? Behave responsibly. Visit a few piercing parlors that you know are top quality and ask about internship programs and other options. Order some videos that take you through the introductory steps of piercing and educate you on the process of proper preparation and sterilization. Many of the larger piercing websites offer these video series' at a reasonable cost. You should also take courses in first aid in blood borne pathogens and other illnesses that are commonly transmitted by needles. Many of these courses are offered through community colleges or local hospital extensions. The most important thing is to be fully trained and completely experienced in all manner of piercing before setting yourself up as a piercer on your own--both for your own legal protection and the safety and well-being of those who come to you for body piercing. The Association of Professional Piercers ( is an excellent source of information on how to get started as a professional piercer. In Conclusion Body piercing and wearing body jewelry should be an informed choice, not a snap decision. If you have been thinking about getting a body piercing, talk to others who have done the same and get their feedback. Ask them if they are happy with the results and for their suggestions on good piercing studios. Ask yourself if you're ready for the commitment to proper care and the expense of a body piercing. Remember that a body piercing is a form of body modification that will affect how others perceive you. Obviously, this is part of the appeal for most people. However, the reactions will be mixed, and you should keep in mind that while some people will love it, others will not. So think through the consequences of body piercing thoroughly before you proceed. Then, if you decide its right for you--follow the tips above for a safe, attractive body piercing you'll be proud to wear! This article on the "Top 10 Questions about Body Piercing" reprinted with permission.
Copyright © 2004 Evaluseek Publishing.

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