Jonna Gallo

Inspiration from Kelso on That ’70s Show? Yep. (Who would’ve figured?)

Written on August 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm , by

So when I think of Ashton Kutcher, here’s what comes to mind: 1. Kelso on That ’70s Show. 2. Goofy pranks on Punk’d. 3. His obscenely overanalyzed relationship with Demi Moore (which flamed out anyhow). Inspirational? Umm, hardly. But on Sunday night, when he received the Ultimate Choice Award at the Teen Choice Awards, his acceptance speech was charming, heartfelt and, dare I say, uplifting. In acknowledging the millions of fans who made and have kept him a star, Ashton (whose actual first name is Chris, he revealed) offered up words of genuine wisdom. He recounted a bunch of basic, boring jobs he held as a teenager, pointing out that opportunities generally look “a lot like work.” He offered a personal take on being “sexy,” saying that being smart, thoughtful and generous is really what to strive for. And he wrapped with a pointed suggestion to actively build the life you want instead of just getting swept along in someone else’s. The 4-minute snippet of his remarks has gone viral, with well over 2 million YouTube views. It’s definitely worth watching—with your kids, if you can.

Watch Ashton’s full speech.

Calling All Star Wars Fans (and the moms who love them)

Written on July 31, 2013 at 4:09 pm , by

My very soon-to-be-9-years-old son has a king-size Star Wars habit, courtesy of his dad. (I mean, my husband is such a superfan that I surprised him with an R2D2 groom’s cake at our wedding. YES, I am a good sport.) So my ears definitely perked up when I heard about the three-night switchup on Disney XD (a digital cable/satellite channel aimed mostly at tween and teenage boys) running now through August 1. It’s called Disney Fandom and focuses on programming from Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. Come Thursday night at 8 ET, I know where I’ll be—happily huddled on the couch with my little man, watching the premiere of “My Family Recipe Rocks – Star Wars” Special Edition. Host Joey Fatone catapults me right back to the days when I was slightly too old to be an ‘N Sync fan and had to take it underground. I cheered for Joey unabashedly when he did Dancing With The Stars, too. (For the record, I still think he got totally gypped of the mirror ball trophy.) Anyway, during the show, Joey visits the world’s largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia, showcased in a museum on the ‘Rancho Obi-Wan’ near Skywalker Ranch, and cooks a Star Wars themed breakfast from the Star Wars Cookbook. I expect the force will be with us.

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“Teen Beach Movie” premieres tonight at 8 on Disney Channel

Written on July 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm , by

Well there’s no doubt where I’ll be come 8 o’clock tonight—huddled on the couch with my soon-to-be 9-year-old, who has been counting down to the premiere of Teen Beach Movie for weeks, thanks to the promo that’s been running between shows on Disney Channel. (He’s fascinated with anything and everything to do with teenagers—they’re like an exotic species.) The story surrounds what happens when a cool, confident surfer named McKenzie and her boyfriend Brady are mysteriously “transported” into a movie (c. 1962) called “Wet Side Story.” This is Disney, so presumably plenty of spontaneous singing and dancing ensue. As for drama, it’s bikers versus surfers for control of the local hangout. Will Disney enjoy a ratings juggernaut along the lines of the monstrously successful “High School Musical” with “Teen Beach Movie” is the question. We’ll know tonight. I’m looking forward to watching.

If you catch “Teen Beach Movie” over the weekend, come back and post a comment letting me know what you thought. 

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Snag a free Father’s Day card from Treat.com

Written on June 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm , by

So today my kids and I are getting in just under the wire to take advantage of a cool offer to make a custom Father’s Day card at Treat.com, a Shutterfly company. To say that I am obsessed with Shutterfly is an understatement—it’s been my go-to site for a number of years now, for backup photo storage, prints and gifts. Now I’m having fun getting to know Treat. Make your one-of-a-kind masterpiece and enter code CARD4DAD at checkout to score the freebie. But don’t wait—offer expires tonight! (June 9.)

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Waiting (Not Patiently) for the Last School Bell

Written on May 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm , by

So all of a sudden it’s like 90 degrees in New York City and my kids have two confirmed cases of Summer-itis. All anyone wants to do is go swimming, wait for the ice cream truck to show up and hang out with friends, playing Manhunt or drawing all over the concrete with chalk. NO ONE wants to do homework. Yet we still have three and a half weeks of school to go. As a mom, I have zero drive to try to get my son to do math problems or writing exercises at night. After all the stress of standardized test prep and nine months of hassling over homework assignments, I just feel like school should be over now. Who’s with me??

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Prom Is a Big-Bucks Proposition, That’s for Sure

Written on April 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm , by

Admittedly, I have time before I have to think about prom in any real way – my oldest turns 9 this summer – but I read prom-related stories and stats with fascination. According to an annual survey by Visa, parents in the Northeast (where I live) can expect to shell out $1528 this year, down a bit (really!?!) from 2012. (To help keep tabs on expenses, Visa suggests its free budgeting app called Plan’it Prom, available at the iTunes store, Google Play and practicalmoneyskills.com/prom.) Overall, parents say they’ll cover 59% of prom costs, with teens shouldering the burden for the rest. I’m curious as to what you think – is a 60/40 split about right? I feel like I have no frame of reference. Off the top of my head, a $1500 night out kind of blows my mind, no matter who’s paying.

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Brokenhearted Over Boston

Written on April 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm , by

Of course it was natural to react with shock and horror yesterday afternoon as news of bombings came out of Boston. One minute, it was adrenaline-fueled runners, their loved ones and volunteers whooping it up at the finish line. Then, in an instant, came mushroom clouds, debris, fear, anger and uncertainty. Hearing later that among the lives lost was an 8-year-old boy, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. As the mom of an 8-year-old boy, I did the only thing I could think of, which was drift into his dark room, stroke his cheek, then listen to him inhale and exhale in quiet measure for a long, long time. So many prayers to all affected but especially the family of Martin Richard, shown here in a photo that went viral on Facebook this morning. Sometimes there just aren’t any right words. The picture says it all.

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I Hate Elementary School Standardized Tests

Written on April 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm , by

 

I’m just going to put it out there: I hate standardized tests, and as a mom I can’t freaking wait until they’re over at the end of this month.

When I was a student, standardized tests never bothered me that I recall, especially not in elementary school. They didn’t unnerve me, and I didn’t feel like my fate was somehow riding on them. The school year definitely did not revolve around them. We were not issued separate workbooks to lug back and forth specifically to prep for them. Standardized tests were not, to put it bluntly, a “lifestyle.” Now they are. So next week my son, a third grader, will take New York State standardized tests in English and Math for the first time. All the hours of classroom time spent prepping, all the homework pages I compelled him do when he would MUCH rather have been playing, because he is an 8-year-old boy, after all, will boil down to six test sessions. Tests based on the heavily-hyped Common Core, which very well could be good for students in the long run, but was implemented far too quickly in New York City by the chronically overwhelmed and underfunded Department of Education. And tests that were originally meant to assess student learning and provide useful feedback to teachers and parents about a kid’s progress and areas to work on, will instead be used to “rank” schools and “rate” teacher competence. To say that I cannot wait for April to be over and done with would be the understatement of the year so far.

So, do tell – are your kids stressing over standardized tests? Are you?

Your Thoughts: Do Kids Really Need Homework?

Written on August 28, 2012 at 9:02 am , by

When we (the editors of Family Circle) started kicking around the idea of a piece on homework, I grabbed the reins because it’s a huge issue in my household. To put it bluntly, after a full day of school, my 8-year-old son doesn’t want to do more work—and frankly, I’m not at all convinced he should have to. I mean, he hasn’t even reached a double-digit age yet. Shouldn’t seven hours of school cover it for younger kids academically?

Apparently not, as evidenced by his homework assignments in multiple subjects. This necessitates me having to suggest, ask, nudge, prod, and finally, flat-out demand that he do the work, which is a dynamic between us that I have come to loathe at the end of the day. (If he’s forgotten a book he needs, because of the crush to pack up quickly, that’s a whole other source of aggravation.)

Of course, absolutely and without exception, whether it is technically “assigned” or not, I would insist he spend time every day reading. I would think that would go without saying, but I will say it lest anyone be tempted to call me out on the reading issue. When I say “homework,” I’m referring to worksheets and similar tasks.

Anyway, I’m fascinated with the writings of educator Alfie Kohn, who makes a convincing case against after-hours assignments. In his piece in Family Circle‘s October issue, he writes:

Doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it’s usually fairly small. And in any case, it’s far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you’re wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.

Other educational experts obviously, and vocally, disagree. In my mind, the topic at least merits spirited debate, rather than just rote compliance.

So speak up! Tell us your stance on homework in the comments below.

Jonna Gallo Weppler is articles director at Family Circle magazine.

Wacky School Fundraisers That Raised Lots of Money

Written on February 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm , by

 

Hi, everyone. I’m Jonna, the articles director at Family Circle and the editor who handled the school fundraising story in our March issue. I’m somewhat new to the school fundraising deal because until this past September, my oldest son was enrolled in a private school that charged a hefty tuition but did no fundraising whatsoever. Yes, you read that right. No fundraising at all. You paid the tuition and that was that. Believe me, it’s only now that I see how great I had it. Now that I am the parent of a public school second grader, I totally get how relentless the fundraising is. And frankly, for the amount of money my husband and I pay in state, city and local taxes, it makes me furious that education gets so short-shrifted and we as parents are charged to make up the difference. We are fortunate in that, we CAN, with a lot of effort on everyone’s part. But what about schools without a dedicated parent population, how does that work then? Then there’s also to Guilt factor: As in, I Feel Guilty if I don’t participate in every fundraiser to the utmost. As a working parent, I have enough to feel guilty about and don’t need something else. So I buy umpteen raffle tickets. I order bakery sweets that I literally give away untouched because I don’t want the calories. And on. And on. So I feel like I’m “helping” and my son does too. I have only been at this for coming up on 6 months. I can’t even imagine how aggravating it will seem in a year or three.

So that’s my rant. (Nice to meet you!) What I am actually going to talk about is wacky-sounding fundraisers, ways to bring in money that don’t scream same-old same-old, been there-done that, however you want to put it. We cover a few in the story and asked our Facebook crew to chime in.

Michelle Miller mentioned a Rock-a-thon, where kids got pledges and rocked in rocking chairs all night. Seems interesting, provided you have access to the right facility and more importantly, the means to pull off the supervision required for an overnight event.

Reader Marilyn Chapman talked up Change for Change, when the principal, teachers and students stood out in front of the school every morning for a week with containers to collect spare change. Each container was marked with a grade level, and the grade that pulled in the most coins got a popcorn party, meaning, virtually every cent collected was profit. Sounds interesting.

From Sarah Rodgers Bechtol came word of a pickle sale, which appeals to me personally because, well, I LOVE PICKLES.

One other response that caught my eye was from Leslie Letourneau Keenan, who suggested something called Bag2School, which buys unwanted clothing and textiles for a set price per pound. On one hand that sounded potentially worthwhile, though part of me feels that no-longer-needed clothes should really go to the needy. Looks like no conflict for me at the moment, Bag2School seem to only operate in the UK.

Anyway, I am looking for fresh, fun, not-terribly-difficult-to-pull-off ideas to pitch to my PTA. Got one? Please comment!