Monthly Archives

September 2018

Saving Money for College: Tax Benefits and College Saving Plans

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ollege can be expensive, and student loans can create a lifetime of debt. Finding ways to decrease costs can help make college a reality for your child. Beyond doing well in school, studying to perform well on standardized tests and applying for scholarships and financial aid, there are also other ways parents can help their children save money on college tuition. However even before your children enter high school, you can start saving money to help them afford college. College saving plans and tax benefits are two ways to help your child earn a college degree.

Tax Benefits

Tax Credits for Higher Education Expenses: You can reduce the amount of income tax you pay through two tax credits. However, you cannot claim both of the below tax credits for the same child in the same year. Follow the links below to see which options provides the best benefit for your student.

  • Through the American Opportunity Credit you can claim up to $2,500 per student per year for the first four years of school.
  • Through the Life Learning Credit you can claim up to $2,000 per student per year for any college or career school tuition and fees as well as books, supplies, and equipment required for courses and purchased from school.
  • One tax credit might save you more than the other depending on your situation. To compare the two tax credits, follow this link.

Student Loan Interest Deduction: You can receive a tax deduction up to $2,500 a year on the interest paid on student loans either for yourself, your spouse or your dependent.  This deduction applies to all loans used to pay for higher education expenses.

Savings Accounts

It is never too soon to start saving for college. There a few different accounts that allow you to put aside funds that will not be taxed.

Through a Coverdell Education Savings Account you can put aside up to $2,000 a year in a special Education IRA for each of your children under the age 18.

Qualified Tuition Program (QTP or a 529 Plan) is established by a state so you can either prepay or save up to pay education-related expenses. When you withdraw the money, it will not be taxed. Each plan is state specific. See what plan your state offers.

For Texas students only:

  • Texas College Savings Plan (The Texas 529 Savings Plan): This plan provides tax-free investment growth and tax-free withdrawals on earnings used for higher education expenses. There are multiple savings options and investment portfolios.
  • Texas Tuition Promise Fund: This fund is designed to help families and individuals pre-pay for all or some future tuition and required fees at any two- or four-year Texas public college or university. Account holders purchase Tuition Units, which represent a fixed amount of undergraduate resident tuition and required fees charged by Texas public colleges and universities.

Our key message for students? It is important to do everything you can to avoid debt. Most students who accumulate it, find that it takes years to pay off and often doesn’t yield the kind of results you would like. Be sure that if you take on debt, you get a degree in a field that matters to you. Simply earning any old degree will not serve you well in the long run and will likely make it harder to pay off loans.

College can be an exciting time. Make the most of it by doing the work beforehand to reduce the cost of it as much as you can.

“Why Read Literature?”

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In her article “Why Read Literature?,” literary historian Esther Lombardi raises several interesting questions. Do we read literature purely for enjoyment? Do we read it just to understand other cultures? Is literature simply something to be decoded? These questions ultimately lead to a consideration of what our students should read — and why.

Lombardi touches on how literature gives readers insight into different cultures, traditions and periods of history. At ResponsiveEd, we believe great literature does all of that, but it does not stop there. Most importantly, we believe great literature challenges students to pursue the good, the true and the beautiful.

At ResponsiveEd’s classical schools, reading from the classical canon of great works entices students to strive for excellence. They pursue truth by reading challenging stories that pose questions about human experience and universal truths. What does “A Tale of Two Cities”reveal about what it means to be human? How does Shakespeare explore fate and free will in “Julius Caesar?” Students develop an appreciation for the beauty of noble writing and great storytelling by encountering masterful speeches that inspire, meeting complex characters who heroically strive for the good (or tragically fail) and contemplating ideas that transcend time. We believe stories that depict both vice and virtue touch on human nature and teach students about the good.

While Lombardi is right that reading Moby Dick can give a student a “fuller understanding of literary tradition in Melville’s time,” this work is a classic because it expresses more. It is an often humorous story of a daring adventure posing questions about what fuels a man’s drive for revenge, how obsession can overrun a man’s life and the universal search for identity.

Great literature challenges our students to grow. It poses questions and illuminates ideas that are always relevant and cannot simply be relegated to the past. These are questions and ideas that directly relate to every person. Wrestling with these questions provides our students with a firm educational foundation, enabling them to self-reflect and decide what kind of person they want to be.

As Founders Classical Academy of Lewisville Headmaster Jason Caros writes in his article, “The Importance of Classical Literature,” great literature ultimately promotes good character and citizenship and helps in the preservation of civilization.

Both our Founders Classical Academies and our ResponsiveEd Classical Academies focus on content-rich literature from the classical Western canon. A sampling of what students might read at one of our classical schools can be found here.

Great teachers are ideally positioned to guide this conversation, especially if those great teachers adhere to the principles of a classical education. If you’re an educator or subject matter expert interested in working with students in a unique charter school environment,apply to be a ResponsiveEd teacher today.

Click here to read Esther Lombardi’s essay “Why Read Literature?” in full.

Click here to read Jason Caro’s essay “The Importance of Classical Literature” in full

Why History Matters—Embracing the Historical Narrative in a Truly Disjointed World

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have never been one for revisionism. In fact, as a historian I firmly place myself on the side of tradition, much to the dismay of many of my contemporaries in the Academy. And by Academy, I mean the collective of history and social science teachers, in schools and colleges, who teach students about our noble tradition. And it is a noble tradition, in spite of the fact that our history includes men and women who did and believed truly horrible things.

Just mention names like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin and images of betrayal, murder, pillage, and destruction probably come to mind. For these, and others like them, we often add other adjectives or names, lunatic, traitor, monster, devil, evil, and so on. In most, if not all, cases, the adjectives are true. Hitler was evil incarnate who murdered six million Jews and millions of other non-Jews. He was also known, however, for bringing Germany out of a crippling depression caused by failed policies of the post-war Weimar Republic, and, perhaps more importantly, for his prolific rhetorical skills that hypnotized everyone, including world leaders, clergy, professors and children. Josef Stalin, too, was a monster, a murderer, and a lunatic who ordered the mass-starvation (Holodomor) of Ukrainians. Unlike Hitler, though, he was honored by the west at the time and was called Uncle Joe, an epithet given not by the Russian people but by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt! In short, a person or an event is never reducible to one or two considerations.

It is very easy to label men like Hitler or Stalin in very vivid terms and let the images speak for themselves. But herein lies the problem faced by teachers and students today who are often confused when presented with complex histories. Is it permissible to recognize the good someone has done while also recognizing the evil they represent? Should not these facts be suppressed since knowing them might actually cause someone to praise them? If you suppress them, can you actually understand the full effect they have had?

Take the following statement: All Nazis were bad. A true enough statement, especially when one looks at the history of the 1930’s and 40’s. Surely everyone knows the Nazis were bad, but were all Nazis bad? This is a legitimate question which German historians ask every day. The answer, of course, should be no, not all Nazis were bad simply because they were Nazis.

Take, for instance, the names of von Stauffenberg, von Moltke, von Haeften, Schultz, and others. Each man was a member of the Nazi party, wore the swastika, marched to Deutschland Uber Alles, burned books, embraced and spoke much of the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the day, and believed in Hitler’s Germanic third empire. Without question, they represented various facets of Hitler’s murderous regime and ideology. However, there came a point when the rhetoric soured and each man was left with a moral dilemma. For some, this realization came early in the Nazi regime, for others not until later in the war. When it did occur, each took a stand in defense of something true, and each, in their own way, gave their life for something noble. Like the ancient hero Aeneas whose aristeia came only after a long nadir on the shoreline, these men did the right thing, albeit, long after many years of doing nothing. In short, these men did noble and courageous things in spite of their wrongly held beliefs. They should not be simply ignored or dismissed as bad because they initially believed or thought things morally repugnant.

Currents existing in academia today relegate stories such as these to the fringes of the historical narrative. What people thought, said, or did early, or even late in their lives is given more credence than the one act by which they forever changed the face of history. In essence, this is a new iconoclasm in which history is being destroyed simply because the narrative is made of imperfect individuals. Students should be taught that such motives are disingenuous at best.

Monuments can stand for a recognition of someone’s virtue, a warning against vice, or a combination of the two. They can represent heroes or villains, depending upon who is in charge. They can also serve as a reminder of something so heinous it would be an injustice to forget it. For me, the danger is not so much in the correcting of history, as when new materials, developments, and data suggests that prior conclusions either fell short or were wrong about a long held “fact” of history; but, rather, in the changing of history by which the historical narrative is eliminated in favor of current mores and political platforms.

As teachers of history, our duty, first and foremost, is to our students who deserve to know all of the good, bad, and ugly of history as it was,not as it was not. We do a disservice to students when we cut and paste the narrative of history to align it with the six o’clock news. We must stand firm and teach children the dangers of power-washing the historical narrative. Students must learn how to deal with information which presents two different aspects of the same person or event. They must recognize the flaws of heroes  as well as strengths of villains. They must learn to engage a conversation even when they are offended. How, for instance, do we reconcile the sometimes competing narratives or history? We present the truth about the person or event and allow students to use their reason to reconcile problems. If we want students who are productive, responsible and courteous members of society who can participate in dialogue we need to teach them, in school, how to engage difficult concepts without losing their faculties.

The answer is not simply to tear down monuments or change the story. Students must understand why the monument was there in the first place and then seek to understand its relevance, or lack thereof today. This, as Aristotle noted, is the mark of an educated mind—to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Of course, this does not mean that we should be insensitive to legitimate concerns from students, parents, and colleagues about the, oftentimes, genuine controversy surrounding such topics. As long as human action is dictated by the human condition, history will be full of controversy. But such controversy should make us look closer at history, ensuring we are better able to inform ourselves, our students, and our families about what really happened.

Our world is more divided today than ever before, but that does not mean we have to be divided in our quest for understanding. It is our job as teachers to unify students and to seek from each their noble contribution so essential to making our world a beautiful place. History matters and historical knowledge is more important today than it ever has been. If we teach students to love truth and virtue above all else, they will be able to judge when something from history is noble, good, and beautiful and when it is not. They will not simply tear down walls when topics get difficult. They will build bridges of understanding based upon virtue, wisdom and charity.

iSchool Virtual Academy of Texas Introduces Success Academy

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LEWISVILLE, Texas, May 16, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — iSchool Virtual Academy of Texas (iSVA), a ResponsiveEd School, is proud to announce the launch of Success Academy. The new intensive academic support program is designed for students who need additional assistance in order to achieve graduation through the existing online platform.

iSVA is a web-based, tuition-free public school that offers a state accredited curriculum and degree plan for third through 12th-grade students. Success Academy is an extension of the online model that provides extra support for test preparation, credit-recovery, homework assistance and tutoring.

“In addition to the online resources available through Success Academy,  students have access to in-person tutorial support from our growing network of success centers,” says Senior Vice President of Virtual Education Lonnie Morgan. “There are currently centers located in Arlington and San-Antonio, with new centers opening in the future.”

Beyond the virtual tools and face-to-face options, students can also call the homework helpline for support during non-school hours. Success Academy is designed to provide a variety of tools to online learners that are not available with most virtual education platforms.

We invite you to further explore the program, view the curriculum or enroll your student today at ischoolvirtual.com. Aimed at providing students with an excellent education, we believe we can help all children achieve their full academic potential.

ResponsiveEd® is a non-profit corporation that operates more than 75 tuition-free public schools throughout Texas and Arkansas, including Premier High Schools?, ResponsiveEd Classical Academies, Founders Classical Academies®, Quest Academies, iSchool High®, and iSchool Virtual Academy of Texas. ResponsiveEd’s mission is to provide hope to students through innovative, character-based, personalized learning environments. To learn more, visit www.ResponsiveEd.com.

5 Opportunities in Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security

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When it comes to jobs in the Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security career cluster, many positions depend on work experience more than education. Several Premier High Schools, located in areas where there is a high demand for workers in law, public safety, corrections and security related positions, offer a Career & Technical Education (CTE) pathway that offers the hands-on experience employers are looking for. If you are interested in a job in this sector, gaining experience in  a CTE program can help you get ahead in pursuing the career of your choice.

Below is a sampling of jobs in the area of law, public safety, corrections and security.

  1. Crossing Guard
  2. Transit and Railroad Police
  3. First-Line  Supervisor of Police and Detectives  
  4. Judicial Law Clerk
  5. Lawyer

Crossing Guard

  • Job Description: Guide or control vehicular or pedestrian traffic at such places as streets, schools, railroad crossings, or construction sites.
  • Growth: 14%
  • Average Wage: $20,127
  • Openings: 115
  • Education: Requires short-term on-the-job training. Most employees have at least a high school diploma or better.

Transit and Railroad Police

  • Job Description: Protect and police railroad and transit property, employees, or passengers.
  • Growth: 16%
  • Average Wage: $50,509
  • Openings: 25
  • Education: Requires long-term on-the-job training. Most employees have some college.

First-Line  Supervisor of Police and Detectives

  • Job Description: Supervise and coordinate activities of members of police force.
  • Growth: 16%
  • Average Wage: $81,483
  • Openings: 255
  • Education: Requires work experience in a related occupation. Most employees have some college.

Judicial Law Clerk

  • Job Description: Assist judges in court by conducting research or preparing legal documents.
  • Growth: 18%
  • Average Wage: $42,153
  • Openings: 10
  • Education: Requires a bachelor’s degree. Most employees have a college degree.

Lawyer

  • Job Description: Represent clients in criminal and civil litigation and other legal proceedings, draw up legal documents, and manage or advise clients on legal transactions. May specialize in a single area or may practice broadly in many areas of law.
  • Growth: 22%
  • Average Wage: $134,202
  • Openings: 1,865
  • Education: Requires doctoral/first professional degree. Most employees have a four-year college degree or better.

The information provided about a sampling of occupations within law, public safety, corrections and security is taken from the Texas Workforce Commission and provides averages that can vary with location and time spent working. When looking at a job, understanding the education level need, growth and openings will determine the wage and eligibility. Growth in an industry often means there are more opportunities for students. The number of openings can determine the wage. Even if a job does not require extensive education, but has few openings, the job can be more competitive and pay a higher wage. For more information, visit Achieve Texas’ Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security Magazine.

While only five occupations are highlighted here, students can find more information at America’s Career InfoNetCompetency Model ClearinghouseOccupational Information Network, and the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook.

A Parent’s Guide to Summer Reading

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Keeping up reading during the summer has an impact on academic performance during the school year. Encouraging students to read by making it a natural part of the summer is a great way to help students become lifelong learners. Below are a few suggestions on how to incorporate reading into your child’s daily activities and also some questions to help students think deeply about what they are reading.

Reading is Fun

  • Act out a scene from the book.
  • Draw a picture of your favorite part of the book to decorate the refrigerator.
  • Write a review of the book or write a letter to the author.
  • Read aloud together as a family.
  • Make weekly visits to the library.
  • Always keep a book in the car.
  • Watch a movie with the subtitles on.

Questions to Guide Your Child’s Reading

Thinking while reading, rather than passively reading will help children develop into active readers who are well equipped to discuss literature in class. It can also help improve their writing skills. Here are some questions to ask your child before, while and after they read a book.

Before Reading:

  • Looking at the title, cover and illustrations/pictures, what do you think will happen in the book?
  • What makes you think that?
  • What characters do you think might be in the book?
  • Do you think there will be a problem in the story? What? Why?
  • What do you already know about the topic of this book?
  • Does the topic or story relate to you or your family? How?
  • Do you think it will be like any other book you’ve read? If so, which one, and how do you think it will be similar?

During Reading:

  • What has happened so far in the story? Can you tell me using sequence words (first, then, next, after, finally, etc.)
  • What do you predict will happen next?
  • How do you think the story will end?
  • Why do you think the characters have acted the way they have?
  • What would you have done if you were the character?
  • When you read, what pictures did you see in your head? How did you imagine what it looks like?
  • What are you wondering about as you read? What questions do you have?
  • Think about the predictions you made before reading: do you still think the story will go that way? Why or why not? How do you think it will go now?

After Reading:

  • Why is the title a good title for the book/story? If you had to give a different title, what would it be?
  • Were your predictions correct? Did you have to adjust your prediction as you read?
  • If there was a problem, did it get solved? How did the character try to solve the problem?
  • What happened because of the problem?
  • Did any of the characters change through the story? Who changed, and how did they change?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this?
  • What is the most important point that the author is trying to make in his/her writing?
  • What was your favorite part? Why?
  • If you could change one part, what would you change?
  • If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask?
  • Does this book remind you of another book you know? How is it similar or different?

The School Year is History. Now What?

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Summer break is here. Teachers, parents, and students are thinking about ways to enrich their summer festivities with learning. As stories from history can form great discussions in our everyday conversations, the goal is to allow students freedom of discovery, while at the same time encouraging content engagement. Below are some very simple, yet specific recommendations to help student learning as the warmth and welcome relaxation of the summer arrives.

  • Local library: Fun and free activities abound at one’s local public library. Many libraries in Texas have specific summer reading programs to encourage student literacy. Students may find that books on an historical era, event, or person provide excellent stories for consideration. Parents should ask students about their interests and whether something they learned in school continues to fascinate them. Remember that wonder and imagination are the beginnings of knowledge.
  • Family trips: Many families are able to travel during the summer break. One way to bring history to these family-fun-times is to plan ahead. Our great state of Texas has tons of historical places to visit—San Antonio, Houston, Austin, and Fort Worth, to name just a few. all offer places of historical significance. Make an activity out of it. Sometimes a real gem is right off the road one is traveling. Using cities and towns as a text is not only fun, it helps reinforce the memory of events that occurred in those places.
  • Family tree projects: Perhaps families have men and women of historical significance in their own history. Our own stories are most interesting to us since they, in no small manner, shaped who we are today. Using one’s own family history is a way to engage student learning about the past while learning about where we came from.
  • Encourage conversation and dialogue: If we want students to learn and keep learning, we should encourage them to be inquisitive. If they see we are interested in their questions, they will be interested in learning more.
  • Historical Reenactments: There is nothing like seeing history come to life. See if there are any local historical reenactments or historical villages in your area.

Summer Art and Music

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ummer is an essential time to help your children develop  good habits beyond the classroom. Keeping a routine is vital. Making some time, even if it is just one day a week, to spend enjoying the arts together will help establish a love for learning. It will inspire children and help lay a foundation for them to have a greater understanding of classical ideas as it unfolds in their education. ResponsiveEd’s Director of Classical Methodology Adrienne Freas provides some suggestions for how to guide summer art and music.

Art

How to study a picture:

  • Read a short biographical sketch about the artist.
  • Observe the picture carefully for two to three minutes.
  • Get a first impression, then look in a circular direction for details.
  • Focus on colors, textures, mood, weather.
  • What do you think is going on in the picture?
  • Draw the picture in your mind with words to be able to tell someone about it.

How to discuss a picture:

  • What did you notice?
  • Tell me about the colors.
  • What do you think is happening in this picture?
  • “Where is the light coming from?”
  • What would you hear if this painting came to life?
  • Since this painting captures a moment in time, what do you think happens next?
  • Can you relate to this picture? How?

Music

Many people are exposed to classical works of music without being aware of it. It is often playing as background music or is used in advertisements. By helping children understand the context and meaning behind classical works of music, you can help them appreciate great works of art. Below are a few suggestions and resources for how to incorporate music into your summer.

  • Go to concerts, but make it fun. There are often free concerts in the summer. Have a picnic to stay entertained while listening.
  • Watch movies or read books about the composers.
  • Research the instruments that are used to make the music.
  • Listen to a part of a classic work and play who can name the song and composer.
  • Listen to Classics for Kids to learn about different composers and the elements of their music.

Family Fun Games:

From museums to concerts, there are many opportunities to expose your children to art and music. Below is a short list. Click this link for a more detailed list of opportunities in the DFW, Houston and Austin areas. Some are free.