December 14, 2016

The Ultimate #WildKratts Gift Giving Guide!

Our friends at Wild Kratts have put together an awesome Gift Giving Guide. Still have some shopping to do for your little creature adventurers? I've got toy reviews and links to where you can buy some of the best Wild Kratts merchandise!

1. Wild Kratts Creature Power 2-Packs  |  2. Wild Kratts Creaturepod Projector Set  |  3. Wild Kratts Tropical Twist Body Wash & Bubble Bath4. Wild Kratts Books  |  5.  Wild Kratts Make-A-Match Game  |  6. *Wild Kratts Personalized Sports Bottle  |  7. Wild Kratts Wild Life Plush

*Items can be personalized
Find them online at the following retailers1, 6 -  |  1, 4, 6 -  |  1 -  |  1, 2, 4 -, 2, 4 -  |  1, 2, 4, 6 -  |  1, 2, 4, 6 -  and anywhere books are soldPlease call your local Whole Foods Market and 365 Stores to confirm the product is in stock and carried in your location

From this group of goodies, one of the String Bean's favorite items is the body wash. She uses it every day in the shower and loves the smell and the foam. It's much easier for her to use than traditional soap. And she follows the directions faithfully, crying, "Creature Power!" over and over again as she rinses (you'll have to check out the product to understand).

1. *Wild Kratts Creature Power Backpack  |  2. Wild Kratts 10-Pack Figure Gift Set  |  3. Wild Kratts Creature Power 4-Packs  |  4. Wild Kratts Cheetah & Falcon Hoodies, Knit Pants for Toddlers & Youth  |  5. Wild Kratts Tortuga Play Set  |  6. Wild Kratts Race Around the World Game  

Find them at the following retailers1, 2, 3, 5, 6 -  | 1, 3, 5, 6 -  | 1, 2, 3, 5 -  |  1, 2, 3, 5 -, 2, 3, 5, 6 -  |  1, 2, 3, 5, 6 –  |  4 -

*Items can be personalized

Kiddo is hoping to find some more Wild Kratts wearables under the tree this year. As for toys, she has tons! Watch her review all her Wild Kratts toys here:

And here:

1. Wild Kratts Race Around the World Game  |  2. Wild Kratts Pop ‘N’ Race Game  |  3.  Wild Kratts Puzzle  |  4. Wild Kratts DVDs  |  5. Wild Kratts Books

Find them at the following retailers1, 4, 5 -  |  1,4, 5 -  |  1 -  |  1, 2, 3 -  1, 4, 5 -  |  4, 5 -  |  1, 4 -  |  4, 5 -, 5 -  | 1 - and anywhere books are sold

We have had a blast with the Race Around the World game! And are looking forward to reviewing Pop n' Race very soon.

1. Wild Kratts Adventure Toy Set | 2. *Wild Kratts Creature Power Suit | 3. Wild Kratts Creature Halloween Costumes 
*Items can be personalized

Find them at the following retailers

It's a little too warm here in Florida on Halloween for kiddo to wear one of the awesome Wild Kratts costumes. But she LOVES her Aviva creature power suit!

1. Wild Kratts Pajama Sets  |  2. *Wild Kratts T-Shirts, Long Sleeve Tees & Hoodies  |  3. Wild Kratts T-Shirts  |  4. Wild Kratts Flip Flops

Find them at the following retailers

A pair of those awesome pajamas is tops on the String Bean's list. For now, she has to settle for her awesome t-shirt, which she wore to celebrate the 100th episode of her favorite show!

1. * Wild Kratts Pillowcase  |  2. *Wild Kratts Throw  |  3. *Wild Kratts Microfiber Beach Towel  |  4. *Wild Kratts Canvas Wall Art
*Items can be personalized

Find them at the following retailers
1, 2, 3, 4 -  |  1, 2, 3, 4 -  |  1, 2, 3, 4 -  |  1, 3, 4 -

Kiddo has a tiger-themed bedroom at the moment, so is not interested in any of these items. But she does have a framed, autographed photograph of the Kratt Brothers on her wall!

1. *Wild Kratts Ornaments  |  2. *Wild Kratts Stockings

*Items can be personalized

Find them at the following retailers

Kiddo saw this and was like, "Wait, they have Christmas stuff, too?" She's thinking about a new stocking. But which one? We'll have to wait and see.

The Ross family wishes all Wild Kratts fans a wonderful holiday season!

October 11, 2016

Vote for Lori Hershey; vote for our kids! #recessmatters

Four weeks from today voters will head to the polls. And while this election year is a big one nationally, there is a race much closer to home that will really matter to Jacksonville families. It is the election to fill the one open seat on the Duval County School Board. And it comes at a critical time for our school system.

When I first met candidate for Duval County School Board District 7 Lori Hershey in person, I immediately liked her no nonsense style. She had just received the most votes in the August primary, and was looking ahead to November.

Lori impressed me with her strong knowledge of our school system. It should come as no surprise as she is a Jacksonville native and the mother of four. Three of her children have graduated from the DCPS system; one is still enrolled.

One of the first things Lori decided was that she would run on her own merits and not partner with special interest groups. She had the opportunity - they approached her almost immediately following her strong performance in the primary - but she wanted to stay true to her own principles. She believes our School Board needs leadership not tied to special interests, and is committed to our schools and our children.

Lori with her husband Scott and their four children.

The District 7 seat is critical at this time. I cannot emphasize that enough. This Board member will have the power to shape the direction our School Board takes moving forward. Cater to special interest groups or focus on what matters most - our children?

To help other voters get to know Lori Hershey better, I emailed her some questions about her goals for our school district should she be elected:

Tell me why you chose to run for the Duval County School Board...

I’m running for school board because I care about public education and I want our city to have a school system we can be proud of and more importantly one we can believe in. I have been committed, focused and engaged with our public schools for over two decades. I’ve always been a champion for public education and students.

What do you see as the key issues our schools face today?

1. School safety and security are important. This school year alone has already had bomb threats at Mandarin High, LaVilla School of the Arts and others. We must ensure our campuses are safe and our classrooms are conducive to learning. Disruptive behavior interferes with learning for all. The best way to make sure our classrooms are conducive to learning is by empowering our teachers.

2. The School Board manages a budget that is 1.7 billion dollars. We must balance the budget and work efficiently within our means to produce excellence in education. We need to cut bureaucratic waste and direct dollars to the classroom.

3. So many of the challenges that face our schools are mandates that have been passed down from D.C. and Tallahassee. We must demand more local control of our schools.

4. Every student needs to graduate prepared and ready for success whether students enter the work force or pursue college.

5. Recruit and retain the best teachers.

If elected, what would your top goals be as a member of the Board?

  • Working to restore effectiveness to the board. Currently our board is fractured and it is important for board members to lay aside differences and work together for the common good of all students and address both the short and long term goals of education in our city. This election provides the opportunity to adjust the differences that currently exist. I have experience working on boards and with teams. This experience has provided the skills to work effectively as a board member. 

  • We need to address over crowding in our schools as well as those schools that are under utilized. This process will not be easy but it is vital. District 7 continues to see growth and our schools are at or nearing capacity. I wish there was an easy answer for this problem but there is not. Continuing to use portables to deal with over crowding is not the best long term solution. Building new schools is not something that happens quickly. This solution would be best solved by developing a strategic plan that is prepared for future growth.

  • Establishing policies that empower our teachers. If we are going to recruit and retain great teachers, then we have to give educators the freedom to educate without being restricted to script. Establishing policies and practices that empower educators in the classroom are essential.
Can you tell me a little about your background? How are you uniquely qualified to sit on the School Board?

I have been committed, focused and engaged in Duval County Public Schools for over two decades. Three of my children are graduates of DCPS and one is still enrolled. I have also worked in the classroom, served as a parent volunteer and mentored through United Way’s Achievers for Life Program. My experience with our schools also extends to my work experience. I have worked for educational non profits like Communities in Schools and am currently employed at the Jacksonville Children’s Commission. My experience and perspective is multi-faceted. My depth of experience with our school system provides me with a deep understanding of the issues and challenges that face our schools. I hold a Master’s in Public Administration and my work experiences have allowed me to: manage and balance budgets, negotiate contracts, and manage teams. I have the practical experience; as well insight into challenges that face our schools

I will be voting for Lori on November 8 and I hope you'll join me!

September 23, 2016

Dr. Vitti: Stop using scare tactics and spreading a false narrative in the media! #recessmatters

Dr. Vitti,

I grow weary of your scare tactics in the media. The simple truth is: our students have everything to gain and nothing to lose if daily recess is added to the schedule.

There is time in the school day, and nothing needs to be, "lost." Your own staff has been able to demonstrate this. Over the summer a workshop was held after the Action for Healthy Kids Urban School Wellness Coalition rated DCPS's Wellness Plan merely, "Average" and specifically recommended Duval add recess to its school day.

DCPS staff members from various disciplines and levels worked together to develop an elementary school schedule that included recess. I myself put together multiple revised versions of our Master Schedule at your request, and was able to find time without the loss of art, music, science or any other offering.

Yet you continue to drive the false narrative through the press there is no time and if we add recess, something must go.

It's not rocket science. Other counties across the state of Florida have made time for recess and lost nothing. They offer art, music, science and even resources Duval does not have in its schedule. Some of these districts have a shorter school day than DCPS.

Duval has more instructional time than nearly any district in the state. But more is not necessarily better. Research has proven recess helps students absorb information and perform better academically.

In a recent Florida Times Union feature you stated you, "don't feel comfortable putting constraints on our teachers." I found it ironic, since you place enormous constraints on our teachers every day, micromanaging them to levels some consider obscene.

A formal recess policy would empower our teachers to follow their training and instincts about what is best for their students, rather than an arbitrary, egregious curriculum pacing guide. Teachers are desperate for a recess policy. They want it as much as parents do. I know because they tell me so every day. They stop me in the hallway of my child's school. They call me. Email me. Facebook message me. 

They all say the same thing, "Please keep fighting." And we will. 

Our own Board understands the importance of recess and wants to see it made mandatory. It has demonstrated it is prepared to do what is right. While all you have done is send emails giving, "permission" and "encouraging" recess, Board members recognize that is not enough.

Ms. Wright said, "I find the word, 'encouraged' problematic. Not everyone will do it."

Ms. Couch said, "It needs to be every day."

And Mr. Shine said he is not comfortable with the appearance recess is optional. He wants to see it required, stating, "We need a definitive, uniform policy."

Our Board wants recess. Our teachers wants recess. Parents want recess. Students want recess.

What is your real agenda in refusing to do what is right? Because I will admit I am baffled.

When it comes to mandated recess, the train has already left the station. DCPS has two choices: get on board, or race to catch up. I hope you make the choice that is best for our children.

Recess. In every school. In every classroom. For every elementary student. Every day.

Sign the petition to bring recess back to DCPS elementary schools!
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