Charter schools struggling to meet academic growth

Students in most Minnesota charter schools are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth, according to a Star Tribune analysis of school performance data.

The analysis of 128 of the state’s 157 charter schools show that the gulf between the academic success of its white and minority students widened at nearly two-thirds of those schools last year. Slightly more than half of charter schools students were proficient in reading, dramatically worse than traditional public schools, where 72 percent were proficient.

Between 2011 and 2014, 20 charter schools failed every year to meet the state’s expectations for academic growth each year, signaling that some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable students had stagnated academically.

A top official with the Minnesota Department of Education says she is troubled by the data, which runs counter to “the public narrative” that charter schools are generally superior to public schools.

“We hear, as we should, about the highfliers and the schools that are beating the odds, but I think we need to pay even more attention to the schools that are persistently failing to meet expectations,” said Charlene Briner, the Minnesota Department of Education’s chief of staff. Charter school advocates strongly defend their performance. They say the vast majority of schools that aren’t showing enough improvement serve at-risk populations, students who are poor, homeless, with limited English proficiency, or are in danger of dropping out.

“Our students, they’re coming from different environments, both home and school, where they’ve never had the chance to be successful,” said April Harrison, executive director of LoveWorks Academy, a Minneapolis charter school that has the state’s lowest rating. “No one has ever taken the time to say, ‘What’s going on with you? How can I help you?’ That’s what we do.”

Minnesota is the birthplace of the charter school movement and a handful of schools have received national acclaim for their accomplishments, particularly when it comes to making strong academic gains with low-income students of color. But the new information is fueling critics who say the charter school experiment has failed to deliver on teaching innovation.

“Schools promised they were going to help turn around things for these very challenging student populations,” said Kyle Serrette, director of education for the New York City-based Center for Popular Democracy. “Now, here we are 20 years later and they’re realizing that they have the same troubles of public schools systems.”

More than half of schools analyzed from 2011 to 2014 were also failing to meet the department’s expectations for academic growth, the gains made from year to year in reading and math.

Of the 20 schools that failed to meet the state goals for improvement every year, Pillsbury United Communities is the authorizer for six of those schools: Dugsi Academy, LoveWorks Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, Connections Academy, Learning for Leadership Charter School, and the Minnesota Transitions Charter School’s elementary, Connections Academy and Virtual High School. Those schools also missed annual achievement gap targets.

Officials with the Urban Institute for Service and Learning, which oversees Pillsbury’s charters, say most of their schools cater to students at risk of dropping out, those who have been kicked out of other schools, and many who are learning to speak English.

“We intentionally work with students that most other people would really not want to work with,” said Antonio Cardona, director of the institute.

Two years ago, Pillsbury closed Quest Academy, a small St. Louis Park charter school that consistently failed to meet state performance goals.

Cardona said Pillsbury would consider closing more chronically low-performing schools, or more likely, adopt new turnaround strategies. They also want to add some high-performing schools to their portfolio so that some of their low-performing schools might be able to absorb successful teaching strategies.

At LoveWorks Academy in Minneapolis, about 85 percent of the school’s students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. About 13 percent of its students were proficient in math and 12 percent are proficient in reading.

“What success means for me is our students are reaching the top,” Harrison said. “We are going to work until we get there.”

Some charter schools struggle with stability and finding qualified teachers who are the right fit. In one year, about 65 percent of LoveWorks’ teaching staff turned over. Some left on their own accord while others were not offered their job back.

“I think that’s why we’re seeing success now because we have a staff that’s willing to listen and learn and take the coaching,” said Jamar Smith, the school’s arts coordinator.

Just like traditional public schools, the highest-performing charter schools tend to serve students from more affluent families, the analysis shows.

There are some notable exceptions, many of which are noted annually in the Star Tribune’s “Beating the Odds” list, which is a ranking of high-performing schools that serve a large number of poor students. For years, that list has been dominated by charter schools.

“These are schools that have fully utilized the charter school model to do what needs to be done,” Sweeney said. “If a program isn’t working, if a schedule needs to be changed, they have the flexibility to turn on a dime.”

New Millennium Academy, a Minneapolis charter school that serves mostly Hmong students, has hit the state’s benchmarks for improvement every year from 2011 to 2014. In 2013, it was designated a Celebration school, one of the state’s top school designations.

Amy Erickson, the school’s director of teaching and learning, said the school’s improvement is due to a focused effort to help its students who are learning to speak English — about 85 percent of New Millennium’s enrollment.

Among the ways the school has done that is through data-driven instruction. New Millennium tests its students about every six weeks to see how they’re doing. Those who need extra help receive it in small groups.

“Many of our parents don’t read or write English,” said Yee Yang, the school’s executive director. “So we have meetings where we just talk about the importance of education. We want to make sure they’re focused on that, too.”

In recent years, Minnesota has increased its scrutiny of charter schools, particularly organizations that authorize them. Starting in 2015, the state will begin evaluating authorizers. An unsatisfactory rating means an authorizer would lose the ability to create new schools.

The legislative effort has revealed a rift between differing charter groups.

Charter School Partners is supporting legislation that would make it easier for authorizers to close schools that perform poorly.

“We think it’s an inoculation for our charter community,” said Brian Sweeney, Charter School Partners’ director of public affairs.

The Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, which represents about half the state’s charter schools, will oppose any legislative efforts that give authorizers more authority to close low-performing schools.

“It’s the teachers and principals who have a much more direct impact on student achievement,” said Eugene Piccolo, the association’s director. “Not the authorizers.”

Instead, the association is throwing its efforts behind legislative proposals it believes might help level the financial playing field between charters and traditional public schools.

A recent report commissioned by Charter School Partners shows that Minneapolis Public Schools receives about 31 percent more in funding per pupil than the average Minneapolis charter school. St. Paul Public Schools receives about 24 percent more per pupil.

Charter school supporters say the model continues to evolve.

“Twenty years ago when charters began in Minnesota, it was 1,000 flowers blooming. Let’s experiment. Let’s innovate. Let’s see what works” Sweeney said. “Nobody ever thought it was to have schools last forever that are failing. So there’s a national move to improve the sector and I think we need to do that here in Minnesota.”

The President Announces New Actions to Protect Americans’ Privacy and Identity

The President Announces New Actions to Protect Americans’ Privacy and Identity

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In the lead-up to the State of the Union next Tuesday, President Obama’s been traveling across the country unveiling some of the ideas he’ll be talking about in the address.

Today, he stopped by the Federal Trade Commission offices to talk about how we can better protect consumers from identity theft and safeguard everyone’s privacy, including our children. He laid out a number of new steps and proposals, which you can read more about below.

“Since I’ve only got two years left in the job, I tend to be impatient and I didn’t wait to wait for the State of the Union to start sharing my plans,” the President quipped at the top of his remarks.

“If we’re going to be connected, then we need to be protected.”

In today’s world, we’re exchanging more and more sensitive information online — we’re managing our bank accounts, paying bills, handling medical records, and even controlling our homes from our smartphones. But as the President made clear today, the ability to do all of this online poses additional risks:

Major companies get hacked; America’s personal information, including financial information, gets stolen. And the problem is growing, and it costs us billions of dollars. In one survey, 9 out of 10 Americans say they feel like they’ve lost control of their personal information. In recent breaches, more than 100 million Americans have had their personal data compromised, like credit card information. When these cyber criminals start racking up charges on your card, it can destroy your credit rating. It can turn your life upside down. It may take you months to get your finances back in order.

“This is a direct threat to the economic security of American families, and we’ve got to stop it,” President Obama said. “If we’re going to be connected, then we need to be protected.”

President Obama delivers remarks on protecting consumers and families in the digital agePresident Barack Obama delivers remarks on protecting consumers and families in the digital age, at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

New actions to protect identities and privacy

The President announced a number of new steps today to safeguard Americans’ identities and privacy:

1. We’re introducing legislation to create a single, national standard protecting Americans from identity theft.

Right now, almost every state has a different law on this, and it’s confusing for consumers and it’s confusing for companies — and it’s costly, too, to have to comply to this patchwork of laws. Sometimes, folks don’t even find out their credit card information has been stolen until they see charges on their bill, and then it’s too late. So under the new standard that we’re proposing, companies would have to notify consumers of a breach within 30 days. In addition, we’re proposing to close loopholes in the law so we can go after more criminals who steal and sell the identities of Americans — even when they do it overseas.

2. More banks, credit card issuers, and lenders are giving customers free access to their credit scores.

This includes JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, USAA, State Employees’ Credit Union, Ally Financial. Some of them are here today. I want to thank them for their participation. This means that a majority of American adults will have free access to their credit score, which is like an early warning system telling you that you’ve been hit by fraud so you can deal with it fast. And we’re encouraging more companies to join this effort every day.

3. We’re also introducing a new Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Working with many of you — from the private sector and advocacy groups — we’ve identified some basic principles to both protect personal privacy and ensure that industry can keep innovating.

For example, we believe that consumers have the right to decide what personal data companies collect from them and how companies use that data, that information; the right to know that your personal information collected for one purpose can’t then be misused by a company for a different purpose; the right to have your information stored securely by companies that are accountable for its use. We believe that there ought to be some basic baseline protections across industries.

So we’re going to be introducing this legislation by the end of next month, and I hope Congress joins us to make the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights the law of the land.

4. We’re working to protect our children’s personal information and privacy online.

Today, we’re proposing the Student Digital Privacy Act. That’s pretty straightforward. We’re saying that data collected on students in the classroom should only be used for educational purposes — to teach our children, not to market to our children. We want to prevent companies from selling student data to third parties for purposes other than education. We want to prevent any kind of profiling that outs certain students at a disadvantage as they go through school.

And we believe that this won’t just give parents more peace of mind. We’re confident that it will make sure the tools we use in the classroom will actually support the breakthrough research and innovations that we need to keep unlocking new educational technologies.

“We pioneered the Internet, but we also pioneered the Bill of Rights, and a sense that each of us as individuals have a sphere of privacy around us that should not be breached, whether by our government, but also by commercial interests,” the President said. “And since we’re pioneers in both these areas, I’m confident that we can be pioneers in crafting the kind of architecture that will allow us to both grow, innovate, and preserve those values that are so precious to us as Americans.”

Read the President’s full remarks here, and see our fact sheet on today’s announcements.

PD Management and Delivery Cycle: 25 Tools

 This article was originally published by EdSurge

To evaluate PD Systems, we created a framework to capture the ways that professional learning is supported at the district level. It has five categories: Recruit and Retain, Manage, Teach, Instructional Support and Evaluate. These categories form a cycle that districts are constantly operating and maintaining. Teachers can be at many different stages within this cycle and sometimes are within multiple stages at one time. Some districts might choose one product to support the entire cycle, while others may choose a combination of products to support various professional learning needs. As districts look to technology to improve efficiency and increase capacity, our hope is that they will be able to find the right tools for the right purpose, whether it is a technology tool or not.

Each product falls into one or more parts of this cycle. The tables below are designed to help school leaders find the right products to provide the best support for teachers, while also illustrating how different products could be combined to cover a complete cycle of learning management and delivery.

Recruit and Retain

These systems support recruiting, hiring, tracking and managing qualifications or compensation, and most importantly, figuring out ways to build capacity amongst the staff districts already have. Often times, these systems are paired with Evaluation tools to help track and evaluate performance.

For Principals, District Leaders, HR Leaders, Applicants
An external website that helps districts create their own recruitment webpage, facilitate hiring online, track and rate applicants for smooth and collaborative hiring process
For Principals, HR Leaders
A document tracker that allows principals and HR leaders to easily keep track of hiring documentation in one place, through the use of checklists with due dates and reminders for each step in the paperwork process
For Principals, HR Leaders, Applicants
A tool that helps districts create a jobs board on their own recruitment homepage, with custom job applications, filtering and interview scheduling process for easy hiring with high volume of applicants


These systems are the heartbeat of the professional learning world. They help manage content and learning plans. These systems enable districts to manage and track enrollment, create courses, and track credits and activities. For teachers, these systems empower them to assess needs, set goals, create learning plans and find the right resources to meet their needs. Often times, they are paired with Delivery tools or Evaluation tools that can help guide which content a teacher should use next.

For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
A PD Management system that helps district leaders track their own resources, create learning paths for teachers to follow and chronicle who’s taken which courses, whether online or in person
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
A tracking tool for districts to track teacher’s PD activities from multiple sources, such as LMSs or PD delivery platforms, all in one place. Teachers can create PD plans and then track the hours they spend on their learning
For Students, Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
Content creation, management and assessment reporting tool that supports proficiency-based learning models
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders, Edu Agencies
A course catalogue creation tool that allows education agencies to share their courses, and integrate their catalogue with districts to give teachers more content choices so teachers have more content to choose from
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
PD flexible learning management tool that districts can use to track content, assess learning, track reflections and credits for both formal and informal learning activities
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
Professional development and human resource tools for K-12 districts to build new skills and track data on professional growth


These are systems that fall into our original PD Learning Cycle: Engage, Teach, Instructional Support, and Measure. They support learning directly and go beyond curated content libraries. These systems deliver courses, provide teachers with social engagement tools, and coaching or mentoring tools.

For Teachers, Principals, Coaches, District Leaders
A bank of videos, online courses, and educational resources that teachers can use to observe best practices and reflect on how to implement in their own classrooms
For Teachers, Principals, Coaches, District Leaders
Collection of 50-hour courses, along side a platform where teachers can set goals, create a PD plan and connect with a community of their peers
For Teachers
An eReading application that supports interactive learning experiences such as communicating with the author, uploading materials to the book’s community and connecting with fellow readers
For Principals
A video-based training that helps principals and coaches practice observing teachers via video so that they can develop consistant observation and evaluation techniques
For Teachers, Principals, Coaches, District Leaders
Private site created for schools or districts to share locally made videos, group teachers, and share commonly used resources online
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
Management system that provides a catalogue of courses including videos of best practices, communities of practice, tools for observation and evaluation, and talent management

Instructional Support

Instructional Support systems combine professional learning with tools that support teachers, immediate needs in the classroom, specifically around lesson planning and assessment data. These systems scaffold their work so that learning moments can be included. They are generally associated with Delivery tools.

For Teachers, District Leaders
Adaptive social network and online learning platform that tracks teacher behavior and makes recommendations for content and connections based on ongoing behavior
For Teachers, Principals, Coaches, District Leaders
A PD management system that supports the observation process, learning plans and instructional resources
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
Data collection and reporting tool that helps teachers create their own assessments or choose from a bank of assessments; it also helps them administer assessments and find scaffolded teaching resources related to the results


While often associated with Manage or Recruit & Retain tools, Evaluate tools are used to support the process of evaluating or measuring a teacher’s practice. They support the observation process and multi-measurement evaluations.

For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
Platform that helps teachers set goals and administrators track observation data. It also connects to auto recommendations and to third party resources
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
A set of tools that helps administrators create performance assessments, perform teacher evaluations and track teachers progress toward their goals
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
A platform for administrators to create custom observation templates, track teacher observations and create final evaluations including multiple forms of evidence
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
Administrator tool to schedule observations, track all the steps in the process and create final cumulative performance scores using various forms of data
For Teachers, Principals
A planning tool that helps administrators make annual observation plans, record observation results and report those results back teachers and the district
For Teachers, Principals, District Leaders
A platform where teachers can set goals and administrators can recommend resources to individuals or groups based on observation results or goals
For Teachers, Principals
Interface for managing data associated with classroom walkthroughs, observations and teacher performance evaluations, as well as a resource bank and source for coaching groups

38 ways Zoos and Aquariums are engaging people through Social Media

Interested in seeing- at a glance- which zoos and aquariums are using social media (or were by November 20, 2010 at least)? Check out this awesome spreadsheet created by  Anthony Brown of the San Francisco Zoo. It lists which zoos and aquariums are using Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, as well as basic engagement stats.

Check out some of the classic, creative, charming, and kooky ways that zoos and aquariums are using social technology to make waves in their communities and beyond:

Utilizing Basic Social Media Building Blocks.

1. Twitter. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums maintains a twitter list with over 127 accredited zoos and aquariums on Twitter. But from the looks of things, there are many, many more than that. Among hundreds of others, you can follow the Oregon Zoo, the California Academy of Sciences, the Seattle Aquarium, the Fort Worth Zoo, the Georgia Aquarium

2. Facebook. 7% of all humans are on Facebook and zoos and aquariums are effectively using this space to cultivate networks, create interaction, and share information. The Tennessee Aquarium always surprises me with cool facts in my Facebook news feed.

3. Flickr. Holy cow! If there’s one social media platform in which zoos and aquariums are taking the lead, it’s on Flickr. When asked (in a survey I crafted in collaboration with AZA), many zoos and aquariums reported Flickr initiatives as their most innovative uses of social technology. My favorite straight-up use of Flickr? That’s a toughie… but the Shedd Aquarium’s Flickr group is up there.

4. YouTube. There’s so much good stuff here, too. Zoos and Aquariums are mostly using this site to help them give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the institution. I like the San Diego Zoo’s YouTube channel.

5. Website. Have you noticed that many of the biggest and most visited zoos and aquariums feature links to social media pages above the fold on their websites (even if it’s small)?

6. Interactive Pages. Many zoos and aquariums are putting their web-based social and educational resources in one place. Check out the New England Aquarium’s awesome interaction page.

7. Blogging. The Dickerson Park Zoo’s blog posts and short and sweet- and a lot of fun. Speaking of blogs, the Houston Zoo has four of them. They use fun facts and photos to share information on conservation, education and Trunk Tales, a blog covering elephant news and happenings at the zoo.

8. Mobile Applications. These ones by the Woodland Park Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, and the Dallas Zoo aim to make the visitor experience as comfortable as possible by providing basic information on the zoo and the exhibits. They even feature GPS so you can figure out how to get to your favorite animals.

9. Foursquare. Remember to check in when you visit the Sacramento Zoo. You’ll be rewarded with a free carousel ticket- and the mayor gets a free gift.

10. Virtual Conferences. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is on top of creating engaging webinars that allow zoo and aquarium professionals to connect and share stories online. Couldn’t make it to the AZA Annual Conference in Houston? No worries.

11. Podcasts. The Aquarium of the Pacific’s (for instance) podcasts share information about the aquarium as well as news and information about issues facing our oceans and our planet. It’s music to an audible learner’s ears.

But that’s not even close to the end of it. Prepare to be inspired… and learn a thing or two about sea creatures, four-legged friends, the environment, and everything in between…

Storytelling and Online Engagement

12.  It’s a boy! This baby gorilla was abandoned by its mother, and then had to be raised by hand and trained with a surrogate mother at the San Fransisco Zoo.  The sensitive situation meant months of no on-site press. But it was no problem for the zoo. They captured the baby gorilla’s pertinent milestones on video. Everything was filmed and edited internally, uploaded on the Zoo’s YouTube channel and then distributed to the press. It worked beautifully and the press used these video links on their own Web sites and in print. Broadcasters pointed viewers and listeners to the YouTube channel and also aired them during newscasts.

13. Talk about streaming cuteness. The Knoxville Zoo’s creative partnership with the Mozilla Foundation raised awareness of endangered species through a 24 hour live stream of two red pandas (firefoxes). Their names, Ember and Spark, were determined by online voters. I cannot lie: sometimes I open this tab on my browser and check-in throughout the day. It’s that cute. (Please don’t judge…)

14. Meet Essex Ed. Turtle Back Zoo’s resident groundhog, Essex Ed, took over the Zoo’s twitter account during the month of February, expanding his prognostication prowess beyond winter weather predictions. Look out @SUEtheTrex & @NatHistoryWhale.This furry futurist was quite charming (even if his lovable predictions weren’t always correct).

15. Turning print materials into links. The National Aquarium transcends the divide between printed materials and the web by using QR codes on printed materials that link to their YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr accounts.

16. Information share within the industry. Impactful nonprofits share their knowledge with others. That’s basically what the San Fransisco Zoo is doing in this video. One thing that I think is cool/important: the zoo doesn’t just leave twitter to the marketing department. They know that many departments should be at least a bit involved.

17. A picture’s worth a thousand words. The Monterey Bay Aquarium holds photo captions contests to engage visitors.

18. Going Meta. The Shedd Aquarium makes celebrating Flickr and Facebook fan engagement through Facebook look easy with their Fan Photo of the Week.  They encourage Facebook users to tag themselves in photos in order to vote for their favorite. It’s a genius voting system. When folks tag themselves to vote, it often shows up the newsfeed for people in their networks, spreading the initiative.

19. Live tweeting… from the ocean? The Birch Aquarium at Scripps took the middle-man out of education-based communication when they created a Twitter account specifically for whale-watching season. Their Naturalists tweet live from the boat!

20. Apes, Elephants, Pandas- oh my! The San Diego Zoo invites you to live stream their apes, elephants, pandas and polar bears! And while you’re on the site, try your hand at the Elephant Odyssey Game.

21. No photographer wants to be photo-bombed by strangers. The Aquarium of the Pacific takes Flickr photo contests to another level and uses it to bring folks in the door. They created regular Photography Nights in which photographers (and photographers-in-training) are welcome to take pictures without worrying about the general public.

22. Let’s tweetup! The Houston Zoo conducts so many of them that they have a separate Twitter account for them.

23. We advise you to visit the aquarium. Got a good rating on Trip Advisor thanks to great visitor service efforts? Flaunt it. Word of mouth marketing is thought be to the most trusted and effective form of marketing. Take a lesson from the Oregon Coast Aquarium: link to your ratings on Trip Advisor and make sure folks know how much your visitors love it.

24. Know your assets! In this case, it’s a Great White Shark. Kind of. I dare you to take a look at this Flickr album of enthusiastic visitors to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and tell me you don’t want to take a picture with this shark.

25. Because “Fluffy’s Daughter” is a bad name for a baby python. And the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium knew it was a lame name, so they called in help from their community. Their naming contest on Facebook resulted in thousands of submissions and 1,200 original names, which were narrowed to five and placed back on Facebook for voting.  Talk about well received; more than 500 people voted in the first 20 minutes and the zoo significantly boosted their “likes” on Facebook! (Spoiler: The name “Hanna” won with 816 votes)

26. The good ole’ ‘Fun Fact’ route never goes out of style. Rosamond Gifford Zoo tweets healthy doses of “Today’s Wild Wisdom,” by popular demand from their online community. A little bit (more) proof that social media works best when educational or exciting information is shared… and not just used as an announcement board for holiday closures.

27. Calling all ‘Mommy Group Organizers!’ Using the social tool, the San Diego Zoo makes it easy to set up playdates at the zoo.

28. Are you on Jumo? The Palm Beach Zoo has a page. No pressure.

29. Cell phone audio guides are a classic. At the Florida Aquarium, kids can listen to birds, fish, alligators, and otters through a cell phone audio guide.

30. State lines are for dummies. The Columbus Zoo offers special distance learning classes to K-12 kids across the country. The program “brings the zoo to you” using standard audio/video teleconferencing equipment.

Fundraising, Working the Market, and Strategic Uses of Social Media

31. Mobile devices= tools for donations. The Cameron Park Zoo launched a mobile giving campaign, which allows guests to donate $5 or $10 via text message. .

32. Making fundraising social with new tools. The Museum of Science in Boston uses Fundrazr, a social fundraising tool, to raise funds. In fact, the museum has raised over $2500 for the renovation of the Charles Hayden Planetarium exclusively through its network of online followers.

33. Meet the parents. The Knoxville Zoo knows who makes up a big part of their market- and they utilize a local online social resource called to connect with parents in the area.

34. Zoos vs. Aquariums: Who does it better? The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is already rocking the contests tab on their Facebook page to engage audiences- but one of their greatest contests featured a friendly race that pitted them against the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, IA. The race was to see which one–Aquarium or Zoo–could promote their page in order to get the most new likes/fans for their respective Facebook page by the end of the contest on October 31, 2010.  It was close, but in the end, the aquarium lost and had to do a full day of “dirty jobs” for the zoo.  But both organizations were winners in the end because of the increase in fans resulting from the competition.  The Aquarium increased it’s Facebook fan base by 283%!

35. A collaboration to strengthen community. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo partnered with the Division 1 college hockey team in town, the Tigers, to promote both partners’ community-strengthening missions. They agreed to publicize for one another through their social media channels. In exchange, the Tigers promoted the zoo by showing video footage of the zoo’s tigers during period breaks, on the concourse, and on TV big screens at games. The zoo and the hockey team also conducted a successful meet-and-greet with players at the zoo, all the while shouting out to one another and publicizing these events through social media.

36. Make it easier for fans to give. In celebration of National Adoption Day, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo did a two-day promotion in which they significantly discounted their Adopt-an-Animal program. They created a custom package that was smaller than a traditional package (and therefore less expensive for us to produce). The result? An easy way to make an additional $350 for the program while getting the word out and giving their online community a sense of special perks.

37. Don’t forget gift shop sales! Folks at  Clyde Peelings Reptiland say that Facebook is their favorite way to  promote new items in their gift shop.

38. Tapping social technology for active feedback. The first step in evolving in order to best need visitor needs is to know what those needs are. By listening to audiences on social media, organizations can learn a lot about those needs- but the Brevard Zoo is taking an even more direct approach. They created research site that asks visitors how the museum can improve. The site allows them to get active feedback, create focus groups, and engage in private forums.

Do you know of any zoos and aquariums utilizing social technology to engage audiences in ways that aren’t mentioned here? Share them in the comments section and add them to the list!

The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten

nclbOne of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn. Nowhere is this misplaced emphasis more apparent, and more damaging, than in kindergarten.

A new University of Virginia study found that kindergarten changed in disturbing ways from 1999-2006. There was a marked decline in exposure to social studies, science, music, art and physical education and an increased emphasis on reading instruction. Teachers reported spending as much time on reading as all other subjects combined.

The time spent in child-selected activity dropped by more than one-third. Direct instruction and testing increased. Moreover, more teachers reported holding all children to the same standard.

How can teachers hold all children to the same standards when they are not all the same? They learn differently, mature at different stages – they just are not all the same especially at the age of 4-6.

Is this drastic shift in kindergarten the result of a transformation in the way children learn? No! A 2011 nationwide study by the Gesell Institute for Child Development found that the ages at which children reach developmental milestones have not changed in 100 years.

For example, the average child cannot perceive an oblique line in a triangle until age 5 ½. This skill is a prerequisite to recognizing, understanding and writing certain letters. The key to understanding concepts such as subtraction and addition is “number conservation.” A child may be able to count five objects separately but not understand that together they make the number five. The average child does not conserve enough numbers to understand subtraction and addition until 5½ or 6.

If we teach reading, writing, subtraction and addition before children are ready, they might memorize these skills, but will they will not learn or understand them. And it will not help their achievement later on.

Illinois kindergartenChild development experts understand that children must learn what their brains are ready to absorb. Kindergarten is supposed to set the stage for learning academic content when they are older. If they are going to push our kindergarten children to move faster, what does that say for the push for “educating” Pre-K?

Play is essential in kindergarten – in fact in any child under the age of 5. Through play, children build literacy skills they need to be successful readers. By speaking to each other in socio-dramatic play, children use the language they heard adults read to them or say. This process enables children to find the meaning in those words.

There is a wide range of acceptable developmental levels in kindergarten; so a fluid classroom enables teachers to observe where each child is and adjust the curriculum accordingly.

Two major studies confirmed the value of play vs. teaching reading skills to young children. Both compared children who learned to read at 5 with those who learned at 7 and spent their early years in play-based activities. Those who read at 5 had no advantage. Those who learned to read later had better comprehension by age 11, because their early play experiences improved their language development.

Yet current educational policy banishes play in favor of direct instruction of inappropriate academic content and testing; practices that are ineffective for young children.

The No Child Left Behind Law played a major role in changing kindergarten. Upper-grade curricula were pushed down in a mistaken belief that by learning reading skills earlier, children would fare better on standardized tests. Subjects not tested by NCLB were de-emphasized. Lawmakers insisted that standardized tests assess reading at earlier ages, even though standardized tests are invalid for children under 8.

ccs I cantThese changes have the harshest effect on our most vulnerable children. The UVA study found that in schools with the highest percentage of children of color and children eligible for free-and-reduced-priced lunch, teachers had the most demanding expectations for student performance.

To make matters worse, the drafters of the Common Core ignored the research on child development. In 2010, 500 child development experts warned the drafters that the standards called for exactly the kind of damaging practices that inhibit learning: direct instruction, inappropriate academic content and testing.

These warnings went unheeded.

Consequently, the Common Core exacerbates the developmentally inappropriate practices on the rise since NCLB. Teachers report having to post the standards in the room before every scripted lesson, as if 5-year-olds can read or care what they say. They time children adding and subtracting, and train them to ask formulaic questions about an “author’s message.” All children are trained in the exact same skill at the same time. One teacher lamented that “there is no more time for play.” Another wrote “these so-called educational leaders have no idea how children learn.”

It may satisfy politicians to see children perform inappropriately difficult tasks like trained circus animals. However, if we want our youngest to actually learn, we will demand the return of developmentally appropriate kindergarten.

Happy Valentines Day “To fall in love with anyone do this


More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. Last summer, I applied his technique in my own life, which is how I found myself standing on a bridge at midnight, staring into a man’s eyes for exactly four minutes.

Let me explain. Earlier in the evening, that man had said: “I suspect, given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone. If so, how do you choose someone?”

He was a university acquaintance I occasionally ran into at the climbing gym and had thought, “What if?” I had gotten a glimpse into his days on Instagram. But this was the first time we had hung out one-on-one.

“Actually, psychologists have tried making people fall in love,” I said, remembering Dr. Aron’s study. “It’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to try it.”

I first read about the study when I was in the midst of a breakup. Each time I thought of leaving, my heart overruled my brain. I felt stuck. So, like a good academic, I turned to science, hoping there was a way to love smarter.

I explained the study to my university acquaintance. A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.

“Let’s try it,” he said.

Let me acknowledge the ways our experiment already fails to line up with the study. First, we were in a bar, not a lab. Second, we weren’t strangers. Not only that, but I see now that one neither suggests nor agrees to try an experiment designed to create romantic love if one isn’t open to this happening.

I Googled Dr. Aron’s questions; there are 36. We spent the next two hours passing my iPhone across the table, alternately posing each question.

They began innocuously: “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” And “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”

But they quickly became probing.

In response to the prompt, “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common,” he looked at me and said, “I think we’re both interested in each other.”

I grinned and gulped my beer as he listed two more commonalities I then promptly forgot. We exchanged stories about the last time we each cried, and confessed the one thing we’d like to ask a fortuneteller. We explained our relationships with our mothers.

The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months.

I liked learning about myself through my answers, but I liked learning things about him even more. The bar, which was empty when we arrived, had filled up by the time we paused for a bathroom break.
Continue reading the main story

I sat alone at our table, aware of my surroundings for the first time in an hour, and wondered if anyone had been listening to our conversation. If they had, I hadn’t noticed. And I didn’t notice as the crowd thinned and the night got late.

We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.

The moments I found most uncomfortable were not when I had to make confessions about myself, but had to venture opinions about my partner. For example: “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner, a total of five items” (Question 22), and “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met”

Much of Dr. Aron’s research focuses on creating interpersonal closeness. In particular, several studies investigate the ways we incorporate others into our sense of self. It’s easy to see how the questions encourage what they call “self-expansion.” Saying things like, “I like your voice, your taste in beer, the way all your friends seem to admire you,” makes certain positive qualities belonging to one person explicitly valuable to the other.

It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.

We finished at midnight, taking far longer than the 90 minutes for the original study. Looking around the bar, I felt as if I had just woken up. “That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “Definitely less uncomfortable than the staring into each other’s eyes part would be.”

He hesitated and asked. “Do you think we should do that, too?”

“Here?” I looked around the bar. It seemed too weird, too public.

“We could stand on the bridge,” he said, turning toward the window.

The night was warm and I was wide-awake. We walked to the highest point, then turned to face each other. I fumbled with my phone as I set the timer.

“O.K.,” I said, inhaling sharply.

“O.K.,” he said, smiling.

I’ve skied steep slopes and hung from a rock face by a short length of rope, but staring into someone’s eyes for four silent minutes was one of the more thrilling and terrifying experiences of my life. I spent the first couple of minutes just trying to breathe properly. There was a lot of nervous smiling until, eventually, we settled in.

I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever, but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected.

I felt brave, and in a state of wonder. Part of that wonder was at my own vulnerability and part was the weird kind of wonder you get from saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning and becomes what it actually is: an assemblage of sounds.

So it was with the eye, which is not a window to anything but rather a clump of very useful cells. The sentiment associated with the eye fell away and I was struck by its astounding biological reality: the spherical nature of the eyeball, the visible musculature of the iris and the smooth wet glass of the cornea. It was strange and exquisite.

When the timer buzzed, I was surprised — and a little relieved. But I also felt a sense of loss. Already I was beginning to see our evening through the surreal and unreliable lens of retrospect.

Most of us think about love as something that happens to us. We fall. We get crushed.

But what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action. It assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me because we have at least three things in common, because we have close relationships with our mothers, and because he let me look at him.

I wondered what would come of our interaction. If nothing else, I thought it would make a good story. But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.

It’s true you can’t choose who loves you, although I’ve spent years hoping otherwise, and you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone. Science tells us biology matters; our pheromones and hormones do a lot of work behind the scenes.

But despite all this, I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive.

You’re probably wondering if he and I fell in love. Well, we did. Although it’s hard to credit the study entirely (it may have happened anyway), the study did give us a way into a relationship that feels deliberate. We spent weeks in the intimate space we created that night, waiting to see what it could become.

Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.



Modern Love


Feb 2015



6 links that will show you what Google knows about you


Want to find out all the things Google knows about you? Here are 6 links that will show you some of the data Google has about you.

1. Find out what Google thinks about you

In order to serve relevant ads, Google collects data about you and creates a profile. You can control and review the information Google has on you here:

Google also has a tool called Google Analytics, that helps publishers see what pages you have viewed on their website, how many times you have visited it, how long did you stay etc. You can opt out if you don’t want this type of data to be collected:

2. Find out your location history

If you use Android, your mobile device may be sending your location to Google. You can see your entire location history here:

3. Find out your entire Google Search history

Google saves every single search you have ever done. On top of that, they record every Google ad you have clicked on. This log is available in Google web history controls:

4. Get a monthly security and privacy report from Google

Google offers an Account activity page that tells you about all the Google services you are using. You can even enable a monthly report that will be sent to your email:

5. Find out all the apps and extensions that are accessing your Google data

The Account activity page also offers a list of all the apps that have any type of access to your data. You can see the exact type of permissions granted to the app and revoke access to your data here:

6. Export all of your data out of Google

Google lets you export all your data: bookmarks, emails, contacts, drive files, profile info, your youtube videos, photos and more here:


Google also keeps a history of your YouTube searches. You can find it here:

Feb 2015



44 Amazing NYC Places That Actually Still Exist

A lot of classic New York City spots might be disappearing, but you can still go to these distinctive shops, bars, and restaurants. For now, anyway.

1. Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston St. (East Village)

Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston St. (East Village)

Jeffrey Bary / Via Flickr: 70118259@N00

Russ & Daughters, a family-operated “appetizing store” focused on selling traditional Jewish fish and dairy products, has been a fixture of the Lower East Side since 1914. It’s one of the only existing stores in the entire country dedicated to appetizing.

2. Eddie’s Sweet Shop, 105-29 Metropolitan Ave. #1 (Forest Hills)

Eddie's Sweet Shop, 105-29 Metropolitan Ave. #1 (Forest Hills)

Joe Shlabotnik / Via Flickr: joeshlabotnik

Eddie’s Sweet Shop is an old school ice cream parlor and soda fountain that has served the neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, for over a century. It’s not too hard to find ice cream shops that aspire to capturing the vibe of an old-timey soda fountain, but this is the real deal.

3. Strand Book Store, 828 Broadway (East Village)

Strand Book Store, 828 Broadway (East Village)

Postdlf / Via

Strand may be the single most beloved and iconic used book store in the entire city, and has been a destination for bibliophiles around the world for nearly a century. The store contains a staggering amount of books and truly lives up to its hype.

4. Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J (Midwood)

Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J (Midwood)

apasciuto / Via Flickr: apasciuto

Di Fara has been around since the mid-’60s but made the shift from local treasure to a destination spot for world class pizza sometime in the past decade or so. The pizza is so good that people are willing to travel from all over the city and wait for up to three hours to get a pie handcrafted by restaurant founder and pizza auteur Dom DeMarco.

5. Generation Records, 210 Thompson St. (Greenwich Village)

Generation Records, 210 Thompson St. (Greenwich Village)

Daniel Lobo / Via Flickr: daquellamanera

Greenwich Village was once a major destination for record collectors, but this large punk and metal-centric shop is one of the few stores that’s managed to stay open over the years.

6. St. Mark’s Comics, 11 St. Mark’s Place (East Village)

St. Mark's Comics, 11 St. Mark's Place (East Village)

St. Mark’s Place has been heavily gentrified over the past 20 years, but this stalwart comics shop has stuck around despite so many seedy punk and counterculture shops getting replaced with chains like Chipotle and Supercuts. (And yes, this is the comic book store from that one episode of Sex and the City.)

7. Caffe Reggio, 119 Macdougal St. (Greenwich Village)

Caffe Reggio, 119 Macdougal St. (Greenwich Village)

Scott Beale / Via Flickr: laughingsquid

Caffe Reggio has a crucial role in the development of coffee culture in the United States — it was the first establishment to sell cappuccino in America back in the 1920s. The cafe still has its original espresso machine, which dates back to 1902, and was purchased by founder Domenico Parisi when he opened the place in 1927.

8. Old Town Bar on 45 East 18th St. (Flatiron)

Old Town Bar on 45 East 18th St. (Flatiron)

Jazz Guy / Via Flickr: flickr4jazz

Old Town has been open continuously since 1892, and made it through the Prohibition era as a speakeasy under the protection of Tammany Hall. The interior of the two-level bar has barely changed over the years, and you can feel as though you’ve traveled back in time just by stepping through the door.

9. The Lemon Ice King of Corona, 52-02 108th St. (Corona)

The Lemon Ice King of Corona, 52-02 108th St. (Corona)

Wally Gobetz / Via Flickr: wallyg

Unlike a majority of Italian ice spots in the city, this family-operated shop in Queens has been making its ices from scratch with actual fruit for over 60 years.

10. Peter Pan Donuts & Pastry Shop, 727 Manhattan Ave. (Greenpoint)

Peter Pan Donuts & Pastry Shop, 727 Manhattan Ave. (Greenpoint)

This 62-year-old bakery in the Polish enclave turned hipster mecca of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is widely acclaimed as the best doughnut shop in the entire city. The doughnuts, which are mostly served while they are still warm from the fryer, are just as traditional and unfussy as the bakery itself.

11. Jackson Diner, 37-47 74th St. (Jackson Heights)

Jackson Diner, 37-47 74th St. (Jackson Heights)

Jim Henderson / Via

The name “Jackson Diner” is rather generic, and obscures the fact that this restaurant has been serving what is widely considered the most authentic Indian food in New York City since the early ‘80s.

12. Julius’, 59 West 10th St. (Greenwich Village)

Julius', 59 West 10th St. (Greenwich Village)

SreeBot / Via

The history of the building housing Julius’ goes back to 1826 and it’s been a bar since 1864, but it’s best known as the city’s oldest continuously operating gay bar. The bar began attracting a gay clientele in the 1950s, and became well known as a gay bar in the late ’60s.

13. Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 East 3rd St. (Alphabet City)

Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 East 3rd St. (Alphabet City)

David Shankbone / Via

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe has been a fixture of the Lower East Side arts scene for four decades. The venue has consistently been an incubator for writers, actors, artists, filmmakers, and musicians from diverse backgrounds, and was instrumental in popularizing competitive performance poetry.

14. Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall, 29-19 24th Ave. (Astoria)

Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall, 29-19 24th Ave. (Astoria)

MrShah2012 / Via

A lot of snobs who will proudly tell you that they never go to Queens will make an exception for visiting Bohemian Hall, the city’s first and best German-style beer garden. If you can get in early and take over one of the tables in the backyard in the summer, you will be in for some top quality day drinking.

15. Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 East Houston St. (Lower East Side)

Katz's Delicatessen, 205 East Houston St. (Lower East Side)

Gsd97jks / Via

Katz’s is beloved by locals and tourists alike for its authentic and world class pastrami, corned beef, and hot dogs. The delicatessen dates back to 1888, and has been using the same ticketed billing system since its early days.

16. Sunny’s Bar, 253 Conover St. (Red Hook)

Sunny's Bar, 253 Conover St. (Red Hook)

A Olin / Via Flickr: shoppeolina

Sunny’s started off as a dive bar for longshoremen working on the Brooklyn waterfront in the 1890s, and still exists as a charmingly old school bar and music venue despite getting hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

17. B&H, 420 9th Ave. (Midtown)

B&H, 420 9th Ave. (Midtown)

Nigel Morris / Via Flickr: 34639903@N03

B&H specializes in selling electronics and equipment to photo and video professionals. In addition to being the best independent store of its kind, the shop is notable for its elaborate system of conveyor belts that runs along the ceiling. The store is owned and primarily operated by observant Hasidic Jews, so it’s always closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

18. Other Music, 15 East 4th St. (East Village)

Other Music, 15 East 4th St. (East Village)

Other Music is significantly younger than most everything else in this post — it opened in the mid-’90s — but it’s a major institution of New York City music culture, and it’s been one of the most influential record shops in the world for two decades.

19. Lee’s Tavern, 60 Hancock St. (Staten Island)

Lee's Tavern, 60 Hancock St. (Staten Island)

Mike Bodayle / Via

This neighborhood bar has been a major social hub in Staten Island since 1969, and is famous for its “bar pizza,” an extremely thin and crispy variant of classic New York pizza.

20. Zabar’s, 2245 North Broadway (Upper West Side)

Zabar's, 2245 North Broadway (Upper West Side)

Diana Shumate / Via Flickr: deshumate

This family-operated specialty Kosher grocery has been a fixture of the Upper West Side for over 80 years. It’s about as iconic as a place like this can get, and has appeared in most every TV show set in New York City at some point.

21. Bamonte’s Restaurant, 32 Withers St. (Williamsburg)

Bamonte's Restaurant, 32 Withers St. (Williamsburg)

Leonard J. DeFrancisci / Via

Few neighborhoods have been transformed as much by gentrification as Williamsburg, but this Italian restaurant has been essentially unchanged since opening in 1900. It’s one of the city’s oldest currently existing restaurants, and actually predates the opening of Lombardi’s, the city’s first pizzeria, by five years.

22. Dublin House Bar and Tap Room, 225 West 79th St. (Upper West Side)

Dublin House Bar and Tap Room, 225 West 79th St. (Upper West Side)

Joseph / Via Flickr: 7150652@N02

Dublin House is a no-frills Upper West Side neighborhood bar with decor that has barely changed in decades, a minimalist selection of beers, and a staff of curmudgeonly but lovable old Irish bartenders. The bar predates Prohibition and certainly looks like it, and its neon sign out front is one of the best you’ll find anywhere in the city.

23. McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 E 7th St. (East Village)

McSorley's Old Ale House, 15 E 7th St. (East Village)

Vincent Desjardins / Via Flickr: endymion120

McSorley’s is old enough to have served Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and is so packed with memorabilia from before 1910 that it feels a bit like a museum that serves beer. The bar didn’t serve women until 1970, and only because they were forced to after they lost a discrimination suit filed by the National Organization of Women. Up until that point, the bar’s motto was “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.” They still serve raw onions, though.

24. Circo’s Pastry Shop, 312 Knickerbocker Ave. (Bushwick)

Circo's Pastry Shop, 312 Knickerbocker Ave. (Bushwick)

Kerri Lee / Via Flickr: kerrilee

Bushwick has changed a lot over the years, but Circo’s Pastry Shop has been a fixture of the neighborhood since 1945. The bakery has barely changed, and still offers pretty much the same line of traditional Italian pastries, cookies, and cakes they’ve been making since World War II.

25. O. Ottomanelli & Sons, 285 Bleecker St. (West Village)

O. Ottomanelli & Sons, 285 Bleecker St. (West Village)

Jazz Guy / Via Flickr: flickr4jazz

This traditional family-run Italian butcher shop has selling top quality dry aged steaks, sausages, and wild game on Bleecker Street since the ’40s. The shop is very old school, but pioneered many trends in local sourcing that are dominant today.

26. Veselka, 144 2nd Ave. (East Village)

Veselka, 144 2nd Ave. (East Village)

This 24-hour Ukrainian diner has been a fixture of the East Village since 1954, and offers some of the finest pierogis, goulash, borscht, and lattkes you’ll find anywhere in America. All that, and the burgers are great too.

27. Essex Card Shop, 39 Ave. A (Lower East Side)

Essex Card Shop, 39 Ave. A (Lower East Side)

EV Grieve / Via

It’s kinda hard to get sentimental about the sort of stuff the Essex Card Shop sells — mostly office and packing supplies — but this store, run by a pair of Indian and Pakistani immigrants, has a scrappy charm. Co-owner Jayant Patel wrote a book and made a documentary film about his experience as an immigrant and eventually starting the business.

28. Schaller & Weber, 1654 2nd Ave. #1 (Yorkville)

Schaller & Weber, 1654 2nd Ave. #1 (Yorkville)

Manhattan Place Project / Via

Schaller and Weber has been the city’s best spot for traditional German charcuterie and Eastern European meats since the family-run butcher shop opened in Yorkville in the late 1930s.

29. Block Drug Stores, 101 2nd Ave. (East Village)

Block Drug Stores, 101 2nd Ave. (East Village)

Dan DeLuca / Via Flickr: dandeluca

Block Drug Stores isn’t a particularly exciting place — it is a pharmacy, after all — but it’s a family-run drug store dating back to 1885 in a city overrun with chains like Duane Reade and Rite Aid. The main draw here is the store’s glorious neon signage, which has been an iconic part of the East Village landscape for generations.

30. Jolly Tinker, 387 Bedford Park Blvd. (Bronx)

Jolly Tinker, 387 Bedford Park Blvd. (Bronx)

The Jolly Tinker is the most dependable Irish pub in all of the Bronx — its claim to fame is being open every single day since February 1969. It’s very much a quaint neighborhood bar, and its clientele is mostly the children and grandchildren of the bar’s original customers.

31. Dominick’s Restaurant, 2335 Arthur Ave. (Bronx)

Dominick's Restaurant, 2335 Arthur Ave. (Bronx)

Leonard J. DeFrancisci / Via

This iconic Arthur Avenue spot is an old school New York Italian restaurant where diners are encouraged to skip the menu — for years, they didn’t even have one — and just tell the waiter what you feel like eating. Patrons who embrace the improvisational nature of the place are rewarded for their creativity with a fresh, one-of-a-kind dish.

32. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, 65 Bayard St. (Chinatown)

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, 65 Bayard St. (Chinatown)

Robyn Lee / Via Flickr: roboppy

This unique shop has been selling ice cream with traditional Chinese flavors — black sesame, lychee, red bean, pandan, taro — since 1978. The family-owned business is one of the longest-running businesses in Chinatown and has become a destination for adventurous ice cream lovers from all over the world.

33. Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Ave. (Upper West Side)

Barney Greengrass, 541 Amsterdam Ave. (Upper West Side)

This Jewish deli has been serving the Upper West Side since 1908, and is famous for its whitefish, pickled herring, nova lox, and — as the sign out front makes very clear — sturgeon.

34. Gottscheer Hall, 657 Fairview Ave. (Ridgewood)

Gottscheer Hall, 657 Fairview Ave. (Ridgewood)

Gottscheer Hall is an example of a neighborhood institution that’s been rescued rather than endangered by gentrification. The 90-year-old German beer hall had been in decline for years, but since Ridgewood, Queens, has become a destination for hipster types who can no longer afford nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick, the place has started to turn a profit for the first time in 15 years.

35. La Bonbonniere, 28 Eighth Ave. (West Village)

La Bonbonniere, 28 Eighth Ave. (West Village)

Salim Virji / Via Flickr: 44124427152@N01

The name La Bonbonniere sounds fancy, but this diner is as cheap and unpretentious as it gets. The decor is shabby but incredibly endearing, and the menu sticks mainly to the classics — burgers, omelets, pancakes, milkshakes.

36. Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, 137 East Houston St. (East Village)

Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, 137 East Houston St. (East Village)

Gary Stevens / Via Flickr: garysoup

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery has been in this location since 1910, but the business dates back to around 1890. Much like Russ & Daughters and Katz’s, it’s a remnant of the Lower East Side’s Jewish history that has stuck around mainly due to the quality of its knishes and the charm of the storefront, which has barely changed in decades.

37. 7th Ave Donuts Luncheonette, 324 7th Ave. (Park Slope)

7th Ave Donuts Luncheonette, 324 7th Ave. (Park Slope)

Brett Stetka / Via

This family-owned and operated diner is fairly ordinary in a lot of ways, but it’s served Park Slope for over 35 years and stands out as an oasis of working class charm in a highly gentrified neighborhood that’s known for being a bit too precious. But never mind that — the real reason it’s here is because its doughnuts, which are made from scratch on the premises every day, are some of the best old school doughnuts you will ever eat.

38. Keens Steakhouse, 72 West 36th St. (Garment District)

Keens Steakhouse, 72 West 36th St. (Garment District)

Leonard J. DeFrancisci / Via

Keens, established in 1885, is as old school as steakhouses get. Everything about the place, from its vintage decor to its elaborate collection of smoking pipes, will make you feel as though traveled at least 50 years backward in time.

39. Tom’s Restaurant, 782 Washington Ave. (Crown Heights)

Tom's Restaurant, 782 Washington Ave. (Crown Heights)

Tom’s Restaurant has been a mainstay of Crown Heights for over 70 years, and has managed a delicate balancing act of maintaining its old-timey soda fountain/luncheonette aesthetic while updating its menu with creative takes on brunch staples. But some things never change — it’s still one of your best bets if you’re looking for a truly authentic egg cream or cherry-lime rickey.

40. Cup & Saucer Luncheonette, 89 Canal St. (Chinatown)

Cup & Saucer Luncheonette, 89 Canal St. (Chinatown)

Eden, Janine, and Jim / Via Flickr: edenpictures

Cup and Saucer isn’t breaking the mold as a greasy spoon diner, but it’s notable for seeming stuck in time somewhere around the mid to late ‘70s. The menu is pretty basic for a diner, but the service is remarkably quick.

41. Lucy’s, 135 Ave. A (East Village)

Lucy's, 135 Ave. A (East Village)

EV Grieve / Via

Lucy’s is an incredibly charming Alphabet City dive with games, cheap beer, and a jukebox stocked with classic new wave. The bar, which tends to draw a lot of NYU students, has been open since 1981 and is still run by its founder, Polish immigrant Lucy Valosky.

42. Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, 174 Fifth Ave. (Flatiron)

Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop, 174 Fifth Ave. (Flatiron)

Matthew Perpetua/BuzzFeed

Eisenberg’s is a no-frills luncheonette dating back to 1929 that specializes in diner classics and a more affordable variation on the sort of classic Jewish delicatessen food you’d find at Katz’s or the Second Avenue Deli.

43. Economy Candy, 108 Rivington St. (East Village)

Economy Candy, 108 Rivington St. (East Village)

Ryan Dickey / Via Flickr: meesterdickey

Economy Candy is just what the name implies: a densely packed shop offering inexpensive candy at bulk prices. The shop, which has been around since the Great Depression, is the best place to find old school items like wax lips and peanut chews as well as more exotic contemporary candies.

44. Clover Delicatessen, 621 2nd Ave. (Murray Hill)

Clover Delicatessen, 621 2nd Ave. (Murray Hill)

Chris Ford / Via Flickr: 44028103@N07

Clover Delicatessan sells sandwiches, but it’s really a draw for its black and white cookies, pastries, and cakes. Above all else, it’s famous for its gorgeous neon signage dating back to the 1950s.


10 Secret Sites Of New York City

Whether you’re an adventurous New Yorker or a tourist looking to make a few unconventional stops, consider paying a visit to some of the city’s little-known gems.

Dead Horse Bay

Joanna Jeros / Via Instagram: @voodoohex

What it is: A horse-rendering plant turned landfill turned wonderland of amazing treasures (read: other people’s trash and the occasional horse bone) from the past century. From the 1850s through 1930s, it served as a site where the bodies of dead horses and other animals were used to make glue, fertilizer, and more. It then became a dumping grounds for the city’s trash, and since the 1950s, New York’s garbage has continued to wash up along the shore.

Why you should visit: You’ll find old bottles — from sodas to perfume vials to condiment jars — from generations past, as well horse (and other animal) bones, disintegrated toys, scraps of metal, glass, plastic, and more. It’s both a fascinating and slightly chilling atmosphere that’ll have you sifting through recognizable relics and unidentifiable objects with just the sound of the waves crashing against another era’s trash as your soundtrack. (Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and bring gloves.)

Accessibility: Take the 2 or 5 train to Flatbush Ave./Brooklyn College to the Q35 bus — then walk through a trail to the beach. (Watch out for poison ivy on the way in!)

2. North Brother Island

North Brother Island

Delaywaves /__username__ / Via

What it is: An island in the East River, between the Bronx and Rikers Island, with a murky history. Once the site of Riverside Hospital, which treated smallpox, tuberculosis, and other quarantinable diseases, North Brother Island was also the home of Typhoid Mary, who was confined there for the last two decades of her life until she died in 1938. In the 1950s, a center opened to treat adolescent drug addicts, some of whom were said to be held there against their will. (Also, in 1904, a steamship called the General Slocum burned on North Brother Island, killing over 1,000 people.)

Why you should visit: Now the island is a bird sanctuary, and ruins of the hospital and other buildings remain, with some rooms amazingly pretty intact. (Check out awe-inspiring photos of a visit to the island here.) There’s probably asbestos permeating the air, but the element of danger paired with the creepy abandoned-island vibe should be enough incentive for you to start planning your yolo-ified voyage here — though you’ll probably have to get creative. (See “Accessibility.”)

Accessibility: Welp…it’s sort of impossible. It’s off-limits to the public, and you have to obtain a permit from the city and charter a boat to get there, which can be pricey. Also, there’s no dock. Oh, and you can only visit between November and February (the herons nest during the rest of the year). AKA get yourself psyched for a freezing cold, perilous, and likely illegal trip to the coolest island on NYC!

3. South Brother Island

South Brother Island

Courtesy of NYC Audubon / Via

What it is: North Brother Island’s smaller counterpart. The 7-acre island was once the summer home to a former owner of the Yankees, Jacob Ruppert, but since 1909 (when his home burned down), it’s been uninhabited by humans. In 2007, New York City bought the island and turned it into a bird sanctuary.

Why you should visit: The island is now home to several bird species, including the black-crowned night heron, great egret, snowy egret, and double-crested cormorant.

Accessibility: It’s off-limits to the public except for a few days a year, when environmental groups are granted permission to clean the island. (If you were thinking about volunteering, here’s a good excuse!)

4. Hart Island

Hart Island

Marie Lorenz / Via

What it is: The largest publicly funded cemetery in the world, with approximately 850,000 bodies buried here. Hart Island is located just east of City Island, and is technically considered part of the Bronx. It once served as a prisoner of war camp and also housed a prison and women’s asylum. Burials here began taking place during the American Civil War — and these days, since the island is operated by the Department of Corrections, mass burials are carried out by Rikers Island inmates. Those buried on Hart Island could either not afford the expenses of private funerals or were unclaimed by relatives; approximately 50% of the bodies buried here are children under 5 who are identified and died in NYC hospitals.

Why you should visit: These photos, of what remains of the buildings (including a Catholic chapel) on the island, should be enough to allure you. Also, if you believe you may have family buried here, bodies in unmarked coffins have been disinterred at the request of relatives.

Accessibility: The island is open to the public, and limited access is provided to those who would like to honor the memory of those buried here. You can find more information about visiting here, where you’ll also find a database of who is buried on the island. There are over 65,000 names in the registry, dating back to 1977 (a fire on the island destroyed records prior to this), and more names are planned to be added as they become available. Nonprofit The Hart Project has been working to help people around the world relocate those who disappeared in the greater New York area.

5. Kings Park Psychiatric Center

Kings Park Psychiatric Center

John Bencina /__username__ / Via Flickr: 85982060@N00

What it is: An abandoned psychiatric hospital in Long Island that treated hundreds of thousands of patients from 1885 through 1996. After it closed, the grounds became a state park, as The New York Times says, “partly because nobody knew what else to do with it. Too far from major roads and full of buildings contaminated with asbestos and lead, it has proved inhospitable to redevelopment.”

Why you should visit: The center is rumored to be awash in paranormal activity. (A 2007 slasher film called Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet is based on the urban legend of a girl who was supposedly committed to the center after killing her family and whose ghost haunts the grounds.)

Accessibility: W. 4th Street, Kings Park, NY 11754; OK, so technically, this one’s in Long Island — but it’s just a Long Island Rail Road trip away, to Kings Park station. The old hospital is now part of Kings Park, and you’d need to obtain a permit and clear your visit with the parks manager to visit legally. Periodically, though, there are walking tours here; in the past, they’ve been given by an organization called Angels Without Faces.

6. Community 54

Community 54

What it is: A cool vintage store hidden behind a sort of cruddy-looking arcade room; you enter through a photo booth. There’s also a graffitied courtyard in the back.

Why you should visit: If you’re into vintage duds with a streetwear vibe — and OK with dropping a few bills for said items — or if you’re looking to host a private event in the courtyard. Find out about events and check out photo booth pics on their site.

Accessibility: 54 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002; take the J/M/Z/F trains to Delancey/Essex.

7. Tugboat Graveyard

Tugboat Graveyard

Jorge Quinteros /__username__ / Via Flickr: jorgeq82

What it is: The final resting place of rotting tugboats and other vessels dating back to the early 20th century; you’ll find it in the Arthur Kill waterway, between Staten Island and New Jersey.

Why you should visit: Though just about two dozen decomposing ships remain (down from approximately 200 in 1990) here, it’s still a cool spot for anyone who digs nautical history — and a fantastic place for a photo shoot.

Accessibility: 2453 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island, NY 10309; take the Staten Island Ferry to the Staten Island Rapid Transit Train to Pleasant Plains to a 45-minute walk. Or, you know, you can drive there.

8. Jamaica Bay Riding Academy

Jamaica Bay Riding Academy

What it is: According to its website, Jamaica Bay Riding Academy is “a full-service boarding facility and additionally offers a vast variety of trail rides, horseback riding lessons, horse leasing, horse shows, summer camps, therapeutic riding, hunter paces, and more.”

Why you should visit: Horses! Learn to ride horses! The park on which the academy is located includes over 400 acres of wooded trails and 3 miles of beach-front riding. Plus, there’s a summer camp available for kids 5 through 15, you can host parties here, and there’s a full tack and apparel shop on the grounds.

Accessibility: 7000 Shore Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11234; take the L train to the Rockaway Parkway/Canarsie stop to the B42 bus to a 40-minute walk. (Or cab/drive it.)

9. Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island

acidpolly /__username__ / Via Flickr: 59298735@N00

What it is: Technically a part of the borough of Manhattan, this island sits just between the Upper East Side and Queens. OK, OK, I KNOW, it’s not so much a secret — it’s just that no one ever goes to Roosevelt Island except the people who live there. But you should! There’s lots of fun stuff going on here that you probably don’t know about.

Why you should visit: There are outdoor movie nights at Southpoint Park (next up: Rocky on Aug. 10), rides on the tram, the Northpoint Lighthouse (a Gothic-revival lighthouse built in 1872 to provide light for a nearby insane asylum that is no longer), the RIVAA art gallery (with very 9-to-5er-friendly hours), and a historic church.

Accessibility: The F train to the Roosevelt Island stop.

10. Night Heron

Night Heron

Benjamin Norman/The New York Times/__username__

What it is: An invitation-only illegal nightclub held in a Chelsea water tower. It ran for eight weekends from March through May.

Why you should visit: It’s over now, so you can’t. Womp womp. But the Heron’s architect, N.D. Austin, is known for what he calls “trespass theater.” Who knows if a similar project may be in the works sometime in the near future?

Accessibility: Getting in required you be handed a pocket watch by a prior guest, reported to a street corner at a certain time, and called a number found inside the watch for location details.

Good Enough” TV Shows to Fill the Gap Between Preschoolers and Pre-Teens

Ahhh summertime, if only it was as ideal in reality as it is in our imaginations (or other people’s blog posts).  I guarantee we get plenty of family together time and my kids are just the right combination of active, entertained and bored. We play games, read books, frolic in the pool, host play dates, ride bikes, draw chalk on the sidewalk, build amazing lego structures, blow bubbles, but all of that rarely gets us past lunchtime. Plus, we live in Florida where it is either storming or almost 100 degrees most afternoons.

So, I will confess what most other moms may not want to, I ACTUALLY LET MY KIDS WATCH TV!!! Alright, those of you keeping the mommy wars alive, feel free to jump directly to the comments at this point. The rest of you, let’s move on shall we.  I really don’t have any guilt about letting my kids watch TV a couple of hours a day during the summer, but I do struggle with WHAT they are watching.

I don’t know about you, but when my now almost 10 year old son starting outgrowing the shows on Disney Jr and NickJr around five or six, I wasn’t ready to embrace the next set of dominant programming available. It felt like there was nothing in between Dora& Diego and Dating.  Plus, I couldn’t help wondering why all the parents on those “tween” shows were either absent or idiots? (Let’s just leave Max and Ruby out of this so things don’t get confusing). So, I began looking for appropriate entertainment that I knew he would find engaging, while not pushing him into territory that I didn’t think he was ready for and that I KNEW I wasn’t ready for.

Here’s a list of the options I found (some you might remember from your own childhood) that were a hit with him and gave me a few more years to keep tweendom at bay.  I realize these are not ALL A + programming and even have some limited violence. However, most are intelligently written, have moral lessons in them and when there is minimal violence it’s in the context of real fantasy and make believe. We all know TV isn’t perfect, but for most of us it is a part of life and we can at least feel like we’re being active in providing good enough choices on this front.

Here is a list of shows by network or other available distribution.  Many are available for free via Amazon Prime , I can’t tell you how much we’ve found the investment more than worth the yearly membership fee for our family. For those shows on network/cable television, if you have cable most can be found On Demand for free provided they are a part of your subscription package. We also have a DVR and we will set recordings for numerous episodes and then I just have them available as needed. A few of the networks do have commercials during the shows, so this way we can skip over those unwanted marketing messages.

“Good Enough” TV Viewing Choices for Preschoolers to Pre-teens:

1.  Inspector Gadget (Amazon Prime)


2. The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra  (Nickelodeon and Amazon Prime)


3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon)

4. Animaniacs (Amazon Prime)


5. Pokemon (Cartoon Network)


7. Star Wars – The Clone Wars and/or the Yoda Chronicles (Cartoon Network)


8. Ninjago (Cartoon Network)


9. Win, Lose or Draw and Family Game Night (Disney)


10. Slugterra (Disney XD)


11. Phineas and Ferb (Disney XD)


12. Scooby Doo (Cartoon Network) 


13. The Penguins of Madagascar (Amazon Prime and Nickelodeon) 

14. Gilligan’s Island (TV Land) 


15. Mr. Peabody and Sherman (Amazon Prime) 


16. The Brady Bunch (


17. Full House (Nick and TBS)


18. Tom & Jerry (The Cartoon Network)


19. Dreamworks Dragons (The Cartoon Network)