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There's hope: FCAT stress can be beaten

By Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2008


The coughing and hacking had me making some bleary eyed, wee-hours-of-the-morning treks into one or the other of the daughters' bedrooms to take temperatures and dispense medication of the cold and flu-fighting sort. Despite all my Florence Nightingale efforts plus gallons of home-made chicken soup and honey-laced herbal teas, each of my "Typhoid Marys" missed four days of school and spent the weekend pajama-clad and bed bound.

This morning my two daughters are clearly on the mend. Even so, no way are either of them on top of their game.

So I'm thinking the timing is insane.

Really, who in their right mind would schedule the biggest, "end-all-be-all" test, right smack in the middle of cold and flu season?

Or, as Linda McCarthy, the principal of Hudson Elementary School, pointed out - two days after the switch to Daylight Saving Time that still has us all adjusting to that lost hour of sleep? Topping it off is the upcoming three-day, sugar-rush of an Easter weekend that's wedged right in between the 10-day test span.

Just a few of the distractions our FCAT test-taking kids have to contend with this year. Never mind all the other stuff life tosses on a regular basis.

No doubt anxiety abounds for many students today - especially those in third grade who face retention if they fail the reading portion or sophomores who could eventually lose out on a high school diploma.

Go ahead and put yourself in their place for a moment.

Feeling stressed yet?

Relax.

Think positive.

Take a few, deep...cleansing...breaths.

Go to the "safe place" you've created in your head or toss your test-taking fears into the basket of a hot air balloon and watch them soar.

For good measure - let loose and have fun.

Sounds a little new-agey, perhaps, but when it comes to the FCAT that's the conventional wisdom coming from some Pasco County educators.

Creative visualization, deep breathing relaxation techniques and positive self talk are a few of the tools guidance counselor Stacy Brasier has been teaching throughout the school year to students at Fox Hollow Elementary.

"FCAT is a snapshot of one day," Brasier told parents at a recent test-taking strategy workshop. "But if our kids have good success throughout the school year we'll have a good snapshot."

Even so, Brasier touts the importance of exorcising the pessimist within that only serves to sabotage and of keeping FCAT in a "big picture" kind of perspective. "It's not everything. It's not the end of the world. It's just one test."

Stacy DeRonda, the reading resource teacher at Hudson Elementary, remembers well her seven years teaching third-grade.

"I had kids that were so stressed that they got physically sick over it," said DeRonda, who headed up Monday's FCAT rally complete with cadence chants, "We're all in this together," sing-alongs and relay races flush with reminders for students to get a good night's sleep, eat a good breakfast and be on time.

"We wanted to do something that would make them excited about it," DeRonda said. "This FCAT is something they have to do so we're just going to make the best of it."

A hot air balloon was the real and very symbolic gesture the PTA funded for students last week at Oakstead Elementary. The objective, said media specialist Susan Hoffacker, "was to take all our fears about FCAT and let them sail away so we don't have any fear for FCAT."

Unfortunately the day proved too windy for the balloon to actually sail away.

Not to worry, though. Just another small glitch in the big picture. The kids actually reveled instead, in the opportunity to kick off their shoes and take a tour through the inside of the giant balloon that was partially inflated by fans in the school cafeteria.

No stress about that.

That's the point, and the advice (beside getting a good night's sleep, eating a good breakfast and getting the kids to school on time) Oakstead Elementary principal Tammy Kimpland offered up for parents of test-taking students.

"Keep a routine. Stay calm," she said. "And be positive. Self confidence makes all the difference.

And maybe, Tallahassee, a change to that schedule.

I'm thinking May.

Michele Miller can be reached at miller@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6251.