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Thoughtful Thursday: Thinking about Math

Did you know that April was Math Awareness month? So we at GCP are turning our thoughts to mathematics. We pay tribute to Benjamin Banneker, present some math quotes, and, as April is still Poetry Month as well, present a math based Langston Hughes poem. Enjoy.

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was a largely self-educated mathematician, astronomer, compiler of almanacs, inventor and writer. He was born on November 9, 1731, in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. A free black who owned a farm near Baltimore, Banneker was largely self-educated in astronomy by watching the stars and in mathematics by reading borrowed textbooks. He constructed a wooden clock in his early twenties, despite having seen only one other timepiece in his life. His knowledge of astronomy helped him author a commercially successful series of almanacs. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the topics of slavery and racial equality. He firmly believed, and was quoted as saying, “The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”

Math Quotes

“Some mathematician, I believe, has said that true pleasure lies not in the discovery of truth, but in the search for it.” Tolstoy

“Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.” Rene Descartes

“Mathematics is like love, a simple idea, but it can get complicated.” Anonymous

“Do not worry too much about your difficulties in mathematics, I can assure you that mine are still greater.”–Albert Einstein

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein

“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” Issac Newton

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein


2 and 2 are 4.
4 and 4 are 8.

But what would happen
If the last 4 was late?

And how would it be
If one 2 was me?

Or if the first 4 was you
Divided by 2?

Langston Hughes

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Good News on the College Admissions Front

For the fifth year in a row, all 240 of Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies seniors have been accepted into over 200 four year colleges and universities. The seniors, all African American young men, celebrated their success at a ceremony where they exchanged the red ties of their daily uniform for the red and gold striped ties signaling their impressive accomplishments. Here they are celebrating:


Congrats to the seniors of Urban Prep! You can read a bit more about them here. Check out our previous posts “And Now For Some Good News From Chicago”s Urban Prep” (April 12, 2012) and More Good News from Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies” (April 1, 2013) to learn more about how well this school has been doing.

In other college admissions news, Harvard University has just accepted the highest percentage of black students ever for the class of 2018, which will start in the fall. Almost 12 percent of the total applicants who were offered admission next fall are black. You can read more about it here.

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Family Ties: How Can Parents Help Create Them?


A good male friend recently described the relationship between his two teen sons as “non-existent”. Different social circles, different schools, unconnected lives living in the same house. If one is away for a while, the other will eventually ask about him, but only casually, and he certainly doesn’t want his brother to know that he cares. My friend assures me that his boys are going through the normal stage of wanting nothing to do with one another, and that he is sure they will reconnect down the line.

He had to assure me of this, because I’ve not experienced a phase where any of my three children didn’t get along fairly well with each other. The fact that several years separate each of them (3 years between my first two, then 4 years between the second and third) could be a big factor. They had to spend a good deal of time together when they were young, of course, but they were always at different developmental stages, so the competitive level generally stayed pretty low.

I am sure that my friend is quite right about his sons, and he is wisely adopting the “don’t sweat the small stuff” parenting approach. But I have to confess that it would bug me if my children weren’t close. I am not talking “we don’t need any other friends” close, but at least “I’m cool with hanging with you around the house” close. This leads me to wonder: what, if anything, can parents do to promote friendship among their children?

“How to Get Siblings To Get Along” in Chicago Parents, found here, had some good suggestions. I particularly liked the following:

Encourage an Expectation of Closeness: Katie Allison Granju, a mom of five kids and author of Attachment Parenting, suggests that parents have a baseline expectation within the family that siblings will be friends, and subtly make sure that everyone understands that expectation. Encourage your children to view each other as allies. As Pat Shimm of the Barnard Toddler Center says, your ultimate goal is to have your children join forces together against you, the “management”, for that is how their bonds form and grow.

Support Each Other’s Activities: Insist (where reasonable) that your children attend some of their sibling’s activities and games. It involves them more in each other’s lives and gives them an opportunity to cheer for (or console) one another.

Family Conversations: I groan a bit at any forced encounters (like a planned “family meeting”) but making time for family conversations, be they around the dinner table (a great place to promote togetherness) or in the car, allows your children to listen to one another’s thoughts and ideas. Enforcing rules that everyone has to be polite and not interrupt will help keep the conversation civil and productive. It also gives everyone an opportunity to laugh together, which is always good.

Don’t Compare: A surefire way to poison sibling relationships is to play favorites or suggest that one child should act more like another. Don’t do it, even if one seems to have all the common sense (smarts, talent, whatever) in the world and the other none. Nothing good comes from your saying “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister”? Nothing.

Establish Family Traditions: Chicago psychologist Dr. Mark Sharp notes that anything that helps kids identify as a part of the family is particularly helpful. “Family traditions, family rituals, these experiences create a sense of bond. That helps create a shared identity, which helps them feel closer.” When my children were young we established Fridays as Pizza Night, which ensured that the three of them (and often all of us) would enjoy yummy casual dining at the end of the week. Even now if one of the older two is home from college on a Friday, he or she expects to see the pizza boxes on the counter and whatever sibling is home seated at the table.

These are suggestions, not prescriptions. Sometimes no matter what you do your children will refuse to get along, and will seem not to care about one another. But it certainly won’t hurt to focus on some of these tips, and it could even help.

What do you do to encourage your children to strengthen their family ties to one another? Please share your tips!

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Are You Focused on Your Son’s Arts Education? You Should Be.

Does your son’s school offer arts education? If it is a New York City public school, there is a good chance it doesn’t, according to a report recently released by the NYC Comptroller’s office, and covered here by the New York Times. The report shows that 20 percent of NYC public schools lack any arts teachers, including roughly one out of seven middle and high schools, even though state law requires arts instruction for middle and high school students.

As the report, found here, notes, arts education has long been recognized by teachers and parents for its positive impact on students in and out of the classroom. In 2012 the National Endowment for the Arts analyzed the relationship between arts engagement and students’ academic and social outcomes. They found that that high students who had were deeply involved with arts programs in school:

Had higher GPA’s than students with lower levels of arts engagement;

Enrolled at higher rates in competitive and four year colleges than students less involved in arts programs; and

Were 3 times as likely than their peers without arts training to earn a bachelor’s degree.

They also found that students with low socioeconomic status and a history of high arts engagement had better grades and higher college enrollment and attainment rates than students’ not involved in the arts.

So what can parents do if your son’s school, in NYC or anywhere else, is lacking in arts education? GCP will be focusing on this in more depth in a later post, but here are some immediate steps:

Do Your Homework: Check out websites that focus on what parents can do to encourage their children’s arts education, like PBS Parents’ Art Education site, found here, which has lots of information and great links.

Do-It-Yourself: Many websites also provide instruction for parents who want to encourage and develop their child’s creativity in the absence of a school arts program. has tips to “Make Sure Your Child Gets an Arts Education”, found here. In “Parents Teach Art: A DIY Approach to Elementary Arts Education”, found here, an enterprising parent has put an art curriculum on line for others to use in their schools.

Work With Other Parents to Bring Arts Education to your Son’s School: The Center for Arts Education has a Parent Toolkit which gives advice and instruction on how to convince your school that an arts program is critical. Learn more about it here. Visit the CEA website, found here, for parent guides which include information about how you can support arts education at home and at school.

Arts education is a critical part of our sons (and daughters) development, and we can’t stand by and let a school’s limited budget deny them this opportunity for growth and engagement. Check out what your son’s school offers, and if it is not enough, start figuring out how to help your son get more!

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GCP Food for Thought

Just a quick posting of two thought-provoking articles:

In “Teaching My Son to Love Himself”, found here, author Faye McCray wonders about the extent to which her son struggles with issues of identity when he finds a white girl is prettier than a Black one.

A white father of an African-American son shares “What I Learned About Stop-and-Frisk From Watching My Black Son”, found here.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Classic Expressions to Share with your Sons

Yes, we know it is not Thursday. But we so love Thoughtful Thursday that even though we were not able to post yesterday, we are posting it today. When we were unable to post, the old expression “a day late and a dollar short” rang in our ears. So, we’ve decided to devote today’s Thoughtful Thursday to favorite expressions our parents and grandparents always used, which got to the heart of so many matters. We’ve included brief definitions in case you haven’t heard them. Do you know all of these? Do your children? Enjoy.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short– late and unprepared

That and 50 cents will get you on the subway– A New York City based expression (established some time ago, since it has been a while since the subway fare was 50 cents), meaning don’t get too caught up with yourself.

Don’t spit on my head and tell me it is raining– don’t try to fool me

You make your bed hard you lie in it hard –you must suffer the consequences of your actions

(Give it) a lick and a promise– a quick cleaning

Between a rock and a hard place– having a very tough decision to make

(I have) a bone to pick with you — an issue which needs resolving

Champagne tastes and beer money (or beer budget)–big budget tastes on a small budget

If wishes were horses beggars would ride–if you could wish your way to success everyone would do so

That’s the pot calling the kettle black–you’re accusing others of things you do

They put their pants on one leg at a time–no one is more special than anyone else

Are the favorite sayings your parents or grandparents said here? If not, please share yours!


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Young Brothers Raking in the College Acceptances

Time for some good and inspirational news: Three young African American men are making the news for their college acceptances. Chad Thomas, a senior at Booker T. Washington Senior High in Miami, has received 150 scholarship offers for his football skills and his abilities as a nine-instrument musician. He has decided to attend the University of Miami, and will play football and study at the music conservatory there. You can read more about him here. 150 Scholarship offers! Good for him, not only for the academic, musical and athletic skills that got him to this point, but for the fortitude to apply for 150 scholarship offerings. Hope he did a lot of them online!

Avery Coffey, a senior at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. with a 4.3 G.P.A., was accepted at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania, each of the five Ivy League universities to which he applied. Coffey grew up in a single-parent household in D.C.’s Ward 8, one of the poorest areas in the city. His high school, which boasts that 100 percent of its graduates are accepted into post-secondary institutions, has very strict rules including a school wide ban on cellphones in the building, and a prohibition on visiting your locker during the day (to discourage hanging out in the halls). He plans to major in Finance, and at this point is leaning towards Harvard or UPenn. He advises younger students, “You can go anywhere you want to, pursue any career that you want to, and you shouldn’t let anybody hinder you from trying to reach your goals.” Read more about him here.

Last but certainly not least is young Kwasi Enin, from William Floyd High School in Shirley, NY, who was accepted to all 8 Ivy League schools. Not only did he get great grades, but he is also an athlete (a shot putter), a singer and plays viola for the school orchestra. He plans to ultimately study medicine, and is awaiting financial aid packages from all of the schools before making a decision. His Ghanian father’s comments speak volumes about the power of positive parenting: “We are very proud of him. He’s an amazing kid. He’s very humble. He’s been trained to be a high achiever right from when he was a kid. We have been encouraging him to be an all-around student. So far, he has proved himself.” More of Kwasi’s story can be found here.

Congrats to all of these talented and fortunate young men! Great to see their successes and we wish them much luck in the future.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Poetry To Read Aloud to Our Boys

Today’s Thoughtful Thursday poems are to be read aloud and discussed with your sons. “To PJ” by Sonia Sanchez is a sweet little ode to a two year old that is fun to read aloud, and a good example of how poets play with spelling and grammar in their work.

“Michael” by Gwendolyn Brooks is a good poem to read when you want to talk to your young son about his emotions. What scares him? What makes him feel better when he is scared?

“In Both The Families” by Arnold Adoff talks about the range of skin tones that can be seen in the extended family of a child. Adoff, a white man married to a Black woman (author Virginia Hamilton), wrote this poem for his biracial children.

The last two poems, “Problems” and “Reason Why” by Langston Hughes are not only fun to read aloud, they are examples of how poets like Hughes wrote both in standard English and dialect, and present a good opportunity to talk about how people use different forms of speech in different settings. Enjoy.

To P.J. (2 yrs old who sed write
a poem for me in Portland, Oregon)

if i cud ever write a

poem as beautiful as u

little 2/yr/old/brotha,

I wud laugh, jump, leap

up and touch the stars

cuz u be the poem i try for

each time i pick up a pen and paper.

u. and Morani and Mungu

be our blue/blk/stars that

will shine on our lives and

makes us finally BE.

if i cud ever write a poem as beautiful

as u, little 2/yr/old/brotha,

poetry wud go out of bizness.

Sonia Sanchez

Michael is Afraid of the Storm

Lightning is angry in the night.
Thunder spanks our house.
Rain is hating our old elm-
It punishes the boughs.

Now I am next to eight years old,
And crying’s not for me.
But if I touch my mother’s hand,
Perhaps no one will see.

And if I keep herself in sight-
Follow her busy dress-
No one will notice my wild eye,
No one will laugh, I guess.

Gwendolyn Brooks

In Both the Families

In both the families that both belong to me
there is every shade of brown, and tan, and paler honey, creamy gold.

I face faces that I see in both the families that both belong to me,
and they can face my crooked grin.

Here is every shade of every color skin.
We fit in.

Arnold Adoff


2 and 2 are 4.
4 and 4 are 8.

But what would happen
If the last 4 was late?

And how would it be
If one 2 was me?

Or if the first 4 was you
Divided by 2?

Langston Hughes

Reason Why

Just because I loves you -
that’s de reason why
Ma soul is full of color
Like de wings of a butterfly.
Just because I loves you
That’s de reason why
Ma heart’s a fluttering aspen leaf
when you pass by.

Langston Hughes

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Is Your Sitter Paying More Attention to Her Phone Than To Your Child?

Have you thought about how much time your babysitter spends with your child vs. her device? We all know how tempting it is to have your connection to the world at your fingertips, calling to you with its rings, dings and whooshes every few minutes. How can you be sure your babysitter isn’t heeding the calls of her device over the needs of your son or daughter? Common Sense Media addressed this question in a recent post, “How to Stop Your Babysitter from Sexting, Texting, and Tweeting on the Job“. Here are some tips from them and us on this topic:

Set the Rules, Clearly and Simply: Young people who have grown up with a device in their hands are not always aware that their regular use of it may bother you or could interfere with the performance of their job. Be clear about your expectations, and set the rules before you give them the job. Don’t want any tweeting or texting on the job? Be sure to tell them up front. GCP pet peeve: We’ve lost count of the number of sitters (and moms and dads) seen on the street who are preoccupied with their devices while pushing their toddlers along. Not only is it potentially quite dangerous, you’ll also miss golden opportunities to chat with the little one about interesting things along the way. And we all know (or should know) that toddlers benefit tremendously from talking and having conversations. They need to hear as many words as possible at this age, and chatting with them on a stroll is a great way to increase their vocabulary. So be sure to tell your sitter to reserve any non essential phone time for when your toddler is napping in that stroller.

Privacy and Social Media: We live in a world of shared digital experiences. Pictures of cute babies, puppies and kittens abound on all social media. Is it ok for your sitter to post pictures of your little one on her Facebook page or Instagram account, or upload an adorable video of him singing onto YouTube? Whether your answer is yes or no, have this conversation up front, so that there are no surprises. If the answer is yes, set limits for what can be shared. If instead you want to be the only one deciding what adorable views of your pumpkin the world can see, then make that clear from day one. Be compassionate about the instinct: you have an adorable child, and a loving caretaker could easily have the urge to post a great pic of him. But be very clear about this: if Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. is off limits, let the sitter know before she is tempted to post.

Playtime with the Phone: Also discuss the degree to which you want the sitter to allow your toddler to play with devices, be they her phone or the baby’s own iPad. Giving a fussy little one an electronic plaything to distract and preoccupy him is tempting, we all know, but we also know it is not a good idea to use an electronic device as an ever present pacifier. Help her understand your thinking on this, and set clear limits.

Tech is Not All Bad: When you are having a crazy day at work, having a babysitter who is tech-savvy can save the day. She can send you a picture of your child to show you a special moment you’d otherwise miss, or perhaps to show you a rash that might need immediate attention. She can text you questions or clarifications quickly and efficiently. She may also have suggestions for cool apps that might serve useful for the both of you when managing daily tasks before you arrive home. So rather than make the device the enemy, talk about its productive uses.

It’s Never Too Late to Have This Chat: We live in a digital age where everyone is or is soon to be wired. So if you did not initially spell out these rules with a long time sitter, or your sitter is a relative newcomer to the digital world and you sense a shift towards device preoccupation, have the conversation now. Remember, you are the employer. As your employee, your babysitter should make every effort to adhere to your rules.

The bottom line is you want to do everything you can to ensure that your babysitter is actually spending quality time with your child! These are crucial years to foster positive reinforcement and development. She can’t do that if she is constantly updating her status.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Spring Break

March and April are Spring Break months, and since we at GCP are Spring Breaking as we write, today’s Thoughtful Thursday offerings are about vacations. In “Vacation”, Rita Dove, who in 1987 became the second African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1993–1995, reminds us how we eagerly anticipate the start of a vacation. And although Nikki Giovanni’s “Vacation Time” is included in a book of children’s poetry she published in 1981, her definition of vacation time will surely resonate strongly with adults. Enjoy.


I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Rita Dove

Vacation Time

What should I write
a poem about
I asked my eight year old son
“Something good” he said to me
“Something that would be fun”

I tried to think
what fun could mean
to me feeling old and wry
All the bills paid and a broken spade
in the middle of July
“All the bills paid and a broken spade
in the middle of July!”
Incredulously he looked at me
“Please tell me the reason why”

The reason why is the reason
because when I’m feeling old
and wry
with all the bills paid
and a broken spade
Vacation time is nigh

Nikki Giovanni

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