Monday, January 12, 2004

Nine-hours sleep ideal to keep minds, bodies sharp

Education Q&A

QUESTION: How much sleep should children get in order to do well in school?

ANSWER: Children ages 7 to 11 need at least nine hours of sleep a night, according to the National Institutes of Health. Sleep-deprived kids are more likely to struggle in school, be cranky and be subject to injury.

Many children with chronic sleep deprivation don't seem tired and may appear hyperactive. But too little sleep makes it hard for children to focus attention and control emotions. They are more easily frustrated.

Watch the extracurricular activities - even homework - if it gets in the way of sleep, experts say. More likely culprits are TV, the Internet, phones and e-mail.

QUESTION: I want to be a mentor and volunteer to help inner-city kids. I'm a white man of 63. I might need help with my view of the world and my attitude. Is there pressure on some African-American children to eschew education, most importantly to learn speak well? Would I be wasting my time attempting to help these kids?

ANSWER: There is peer pressure and social pressure steering some African-American children away from trying their best in school, says Marc D. Johnson, vice president of mentoring for the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative.

That pressure takes many forms, he said, from children poking fun at a child who speaks proper English, to an older neighbor or sibling disparaging a child for flaunting their smarts.

Add to that other pressures from poverty and crime.

"The pressure ... exists because there is not a critical mass of caring role models in these kids' lives, who share an alternative perspective," Johnson said.

A Pew Foundation report earlier this year noted that young people who are mentored achieve higher grades, are less likely to drop out of school or fight, and have better attendance than their non-mentored peers.

"I think teachers are tremendous role models,'' Johnson said. "But there has to be more role models in (children's) lives to really stem the tide of negative pressure they face outside of school."

Considering that the high-school dropout rate for Cincinnati public schools is about 60 percent, the need for mentors is staggering, he said. The youth collaborative has matched 1,776 mentors with young people; another 700 young people are waiting for mentors.

While it is true, Johnson said, that African-American mentors can be powerful role models to black youngsters, there aren't enough volunteers. Mentors who aren't African-Americans can be strong influences for these kids, too, he said.

"It's not necessarily a matter of relating; it's a matter of sharing the experience, broadening the perspective of that student," he said. "Mentors don't necessarily have to understand all the cultural dynamics - the dress or the music."



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