top of page

A School Superintendent’s Thoughts On Education, Community, Parenting, And More

Listen Up!

It’s the holiday season. We’re all ears for great gift ideas for our kid’s friends or the nephew we only see once-a-year at the holidays. In considering the message I wanted to share with SupsOn readers this month, I wondered what great gift recommendation I have received this year that I can share with you.

A parent in my district recently passed on to me a website that she and her children have loved. The website has brightened my morning ride with my son each day and actually added value to his growing development. Allow me to pass on this terrific suggestion to you so that it might brighten your morning breakfast or ride to school and benefit your child’s development, too.

The parent asked, “Have you heard of KidNuz?” I had not. And not one to be “left out” of the latest and greatest, I asked more. She shared how she and her kids sit around the kitchen island each morning eating breakfast and listening to short five-minute news podcasts specifically produced for kids. The parent reflected that it generated some really great conversation and provided topical lessons and information about the world in thoughtful language that kids could relate to and understand.

Wait a minute. News? These days? I wondered if today’s news was age appropriate enough for some of our elementary aged students.

Sure enough, my parent concierge assured me that the service effectively filters for topics and presents them in a manner suitable for children as young as first or second grade and as old as middle school.

She forwarded me the website and I’m so grateful she did. Every day since the recommendation, my son (8 years old; 3rd grade) and I don’t miss a ride to school without listening to the KidNuz podcast. So what’s to love?

It’s easy. You simply register your cell phone at the KidNuz website. Each morning at 7:00 a.m. you will receive a text with the link. You can listen anywhere your device gets internet. We like to listen in the car with the phone’s bluetooth set up to the car’s radio.

It’s well designed. The creators know kids and they know news that will engage them. Yesterday’s topics include: “Lesson on Losing, Power of the Pen, DC “Chicken”, Mars Selfie and Mystery Stripes.” The broadcasters are pleasant and interesting. Important and high-interest topics for kids to know and understand are shared. The podcast usually includes four to five news points followed by the “Kidnuz Quiz.” The broadcast concludes with a stimulating piece of trivia called “One for the Road.”

It’s free. The website service is free. Occasionally, there will be a short one sentence advertisement in the broadcast, but that is rare. In the few months we’ve been listening I have noticed maybe three advertisements of no more than a passing mention.

My kid loves it. If I fail to set up the broadcast within the first two minutes of getting in the car, I’m quickly scolded. My son listens intently to the stories, a skill I all-too-rarely see exhibited at home. While I have to ask him several times to pick up his socks or brush his teeth, on our morning ride, he’s so motivated to listen closely because he intrinsically wants to perform well on the KidNuz Quiz. He even asks for help from me when he’s stumped. Listening? Asking for help? Not my kid. But for five minutes in the morning, listening and asking for help are cool!

There’s hidden value. It turns out that being a School Superintendent affords me some insight into how this small five minute podcast could actually be aiding student learning. In California, as in all states, we have a state assessment. Ours is the CAASPP. Each year, our students in grades 3 – 8 are assessed in English Language Arts and Math. It’s no surprise that there is considerable interest in students collectively performing as well as possible on these tests. Whether we like it or not, communities judge schools based on performance. Would you be surprised if I told you that in the ELA portion of the CAASPP test the lowest area of performance in many districts is consistently the strand known as “Listening?” It’s true.

In my own district, a high achieving PK-8 district in Silicon Valley, the “Listening claim” has 15% points fewer students in the “above standard” performance band than the next lowest. There are three other “claims” in the ELA portion of the assessment. They are Reading, Writing, and Research and Inquiry. A range of 55% – 59% of our students perform in the “above standard” performance band for these three areas. The Listening claim, however? Forty percent (40%) are “above standard.”

There could be all kinds of reasons for this. And, this blog isn’t about what we can do to raise student test scores.

What listening to and discussing KidNuz with my son has reminded me is that listening is a skill we can practice. Listening is a skill we can hone. Listening also just happens to be an area with the most growth potential on an objective measurement. If we can find tools that make building listening skills fun and engaging…why not?

And don’t get me started on the immediate necessity to build media literacy skills in our kids. That’s a whole other blog.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful (but maybe not newsworthy) December break.

Erik Burmeister is the Superintendent of Menlo Park City School District in the heart of Silicon Valley.


bottom of page