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In Loving Memory

From Breakthroughs International

In Loving Memory of Cecilia "Cece" Koester Osborne

UnknownIt is with deep sorrow that I announce the passing of my dear friend, colleague, and mentor, Cecilia “Cece” Koester Osborne. Cecilia was 64 and recently diagnosed with cancer. She transitioned early this morning, October 6, 2020, surrounded by her loving and supportive family.

Cece changed the trajectory of my life 20 years ago, and I imagine others have similar stories. She had an incredible gift for teaching “noticing” and helping one see and experience the greatness of their own potential. I will miss her smile, her wisdom, my connection with her, and much more — the words are not quite here yet for me.

Kari Coady
Executive Director

Paul & Gail Dennison Share

It is with heavy hearts that we bid our dear longtime friend Cecilia a fond farewell. Cece was a long time bringer of joy—to us, and to many. We are grateful to have had her in our lives for so many years. Cece once made us a pressed flower picture with a quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer, which daily reminds us of her: "It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive." Cece brought magic to people wherever she journeyed. Movement was her message, and love was her medium. She was dearly loved, and will be remembered with celebration by thousands the world around.

A Message from Carlota Lopez-Peredo Martinez

Unknown-1Cece was extraordinary. She transformed the pain of many into hope. She showed us why fighting is worth it. She changed my life forever, and helped me change the lives of others. She had a brilliant and profound understanding of the work, a deep connection to the students, the kids, and to the families. She gave so much of herself to others, and others can now follow in her steps.

I am grateful to her for her guidance as a mentor, demanding and encouraging, pushing me to be the best teacher I could be — always present with her gems of knowledge and perception.

We had a beautiful friendship, full of deep conversations that transformed my life in so many ways. She gifted me with her advice many times, and valued mine to her. Thank you, Cece, for the laughter, the tears, the trust. Thanks for being family.

Cece’s Gift

We are honored and filled with gratitude to Cece for leaving Movement Based Learning to Breakthroughs International. The transition will take several months to complete, and we will do our best to carry on her legacy and take great care of her “baby”.

Memorial Service & Condolences

Breakthroughs International will be holding an online memorial service in her honor — more details to come once we have them. 
In the meantime, we are organizing condolences for her family so they do not get overwhelmed with emails. Please send yours to us and we will be sure to pass them on.
Rest In Peace My Friend,
Kari Coady
Executive Director

Could Negative Thoughts Affect Your Risk of Dementia?

Apparently, yes! Research led by the Yale School of Public Health demonstrates that individuals who hold negative beliefs about aging are more likely to have brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating neurodegenerative disorder that causes dementia in more than 5 million Americans. Two Yale studies found a strong correlation between negative feelings about aging and the elderly and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. The studies further suggest that altering negative beliefs about aging could potentially offer a way to reduce the rapidly rising rate of Alzheimer’s.

The first study, published in Psychology and Aging, used data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging to determine how 158 participants viewed the aging process. Participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements about aging. They answered survey questions while in their 40s, then 25 years later, and had annual MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) for up to 10 years. Based on MRIs, researchers found that participants who held more negative beliefs about aging showed a “significantly steeper decline” in the volume of the hippocampus than their more positive-thinking peers. The hippocampus is crucial to memory, and its reduced volume is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Using brain autopsies, researchers examined two other indicators of the disease: amyloid plaques (protein clusters that build up between brain cells) and neurofibrillary tangles (twisted strands of protein that build up within brain cells). Participants holding more negative beliefs about aging had a significantly greater number of plaques and tangles. In some cases these views were expressed 28 years before the plaques and tangles were seen.

These studies, led by Becca Levy, associate professor of public health and psychology, are the first to link the brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease to a cultural-based psychosocial risk factor. Levy sees the link as stress-related: “We believe that stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals might internalize from society can result in pathological brain changes.” Levy is optimistic, however: “Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realize that these negative beliefs about aging can be mitigated, and positive beliefs about aging can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable.”

Beth Goren of the BodyMind Centering Association agrees: “The outcome of negative views of aging squares with earlier findings about the health risks associated with pessimism. We know that pessimism has been linked to a higher risk of dying before age 65, while positive emotions are associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol, better immune function, and reduced risk of chronic diseases. We also know that optimism is at least partially learned, which suggests that Dr. Levy is right—it is possible to replace negative views with positive ones.”


Surviving the Teenage Brain: What Educators Should Know


Surviving the Teenage Brain: What Educators Should Know

Why are so many of our high school and college students so, so smart, and yet, at the same time so, so… foolish? It turns out they can’t help it. The adolescent brain is a work in progress, “a puzzle waiting completion,” says Dr. Frances Jensen, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and the co-author of The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults (Harper), with Amy Ellis Nutt. Recently, Jensen spoke with "NEA Today" about how the mysteries of the teenage brain can be better understood by parents and educators.

In the book you describe the many things that are happening — or not yet happening — in the teenage brain. Can you explain what you mean when you say it’s like a Ferrari that’s all revved up…

FJ: But doesn’t have any brakes!

There are a few basic points about brain development that I always try to make: First of all, the brain is the last organ in the body to mature, and it isn’t done until the mid- to late-20s. So when you’re in college, it’s not done, and it’s certainly not done in high school.

Young people have some hidden strengths that we don’t have as adults. Learning is about building circuits in your brain, or making connections between brain synapses – this is called “synaptic plasticity.” All of the machinery that makes your synapses bigger, and the number of synapses themselves, are set at higher levels in children. That gives them a great ability to learn but it’s also a hidden vulnerability. They can imprint — on good things and bad things. For instance, addiction, which is a form of learning, is stronger, faster, and longer in younger people.

That heightened synaptic plasticity is the “revved up” part. But the “brakes,” or the way they regulate themselves is more limited. It turns out that our brain regions connect to each other, front to back, side to side, and we use tracks to do that. They’re kind of like wires, conducting electrical signals. The problem is we have hundreds of miles of these connecting fibers in our brain and it takes a very long time to connect and insulate all of them. It starts in the front of the brain and moves forward. The last place to connect is the frontal lobe, the seat of our executive function, our empathy, our judgment, our risk control…

Interestingly, on average, males are a couple of years behind females in making these kinds of connections, although there are always individual variations. That’s why we often see more risk-taking behavior in boys than girls.

So what can teachers and other educators do with this new information about brains?

FJ: Teenagers are learning machines. Our society puts them in a special place where their primary purpose is to learn – and this is excellent because they’re extremely well-equipped to do that. The hope is that teachers can remind their students, good and bad students, how to help their brains function optimally.


Sleep is a big part of it. Their sleep patterns are different, and there is real biology to explain why. Their circadian clock is 2-3 hours off from adults, and their melatonin does not get released until 2-3 hours after adults’ release. All juvenile mammalian species do this, it’s not unique to humans. The problem is, if you’re sleep deprived, your learning is going to be affected. When we wake them up at 6 a.m., it’s like up waking up an adult at 3 a.m. And yet, we ask them to be at that SAT testing center with pencils sharpened at 7:30! That’s not a great time for their brain to perform.

It does beg the question of how the school day should be structured. The world can’t shift itself, but you might think about what topics to put at the beginning of the day. The ones requiring rigorous brain activity — and that includes our exams — probably should be placed no later than late morning.

In the book, you explain how stress affects teenage brains more acutely than adult brains, and that the hormone usually released in response to stress to modulate anxiety has a reverse effect in adolescents, making them even more anxious! But much of what happens in high school and college is stressful, with high-stakes testing, increased enrollment in Advanced Placement testing… 

FJ: And, of course, social networking is so competitive too! It is distractingly stressful for these kids, and it means their brains are not going to be functioning at their optimum. And there also is addiction to consider. They will get addicted to the Internet, more than adults. Gaming actually turns on the same areas of the brain as cocaine. How do we remind them of that vulnerability? How do we teach them to manage these competing influences? Mindfulness should be a big part of their education: being mindful of the effects of stress or social networking on their brains. We need to teach kids to be sensitive to their brain health. They should know that downtime is really important. We should get it explicitly on the table: ’you should know, the emotional parts of your brain are running the show, you have a paradoxical reaction to stress…’ When I’ve given Brain 101 talks to kids, they have been fascinated. They love learning this cool stuff about themselves!

Do the differences between boys’ and girls’ brain development make a case for single-sex education?

FJ: I’m a product of single-sex education — although I didn’t necessarily like it at the time! Girls hit a sweet spot, when the myelin (the fatty substance that insulates brain circuits) is increasing and the synapses are coming down, about two years before boys. That generally is happening at ages 12-14 for girls, and 16-18 for boys. There are studies where they teach subjects like calculus to 12- to 14-year-old girls and they do very well! The data would say that it’s probably worth studying … It’s an interesting topic and should be looked at.

There are sometimes very serious consequences for students who violate discipline codes: suspensions and expulsions that lead to increased chances of dropping out, or entering what we call the school-to-prison pipeline. Does what we know about the brain mean we should be turning our attention to more restorative approaches?

FJ: This is a huge issue, and I actually contributed to two amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court about the inappropriate life sentencing without parole for children in the criminal justice system.

Adolescence can be a very rehabilitative time. Rehab or intervention strategies are most effective in this age window because their brains really are plastic. You also can change your IQ in this window, significantly, which brings up the issue of the late bloomer. Young people need to know that they have many more years to remap themselves, to reconfigure who they are. It’s actually a very positive message!

Most kids do not get real learning assessments that show their relative strengths and weaknesses. Should educators be doing those for all kids, or do you think they’re not necessary for students meeting educational goals?

FJ: Instead of assessing the bottom 10-20 percent who are performing at the bottom of the class, I believe everybody needs a little screening. Wouldn’t it be great to know at age 13 that I’m a verbal learner, and my calculations are a little weaker? You have the best shot at actually changing that during this period of heightened plasticity. We have the computational ability to do this — even if it’s a 45-minute screening at the end of 8th grade.


FEAR & the school classroom

trauma and children

For several years, John Snelgrove began his workweek with a lengthy fax from the local police, listing the home addresses where officers had answered domestic violence calls over the weekend.

Snelgrove, head of guidance services for Brockton (Mass.) Public Schools, would check those addresses against the district’s student database. When a match came up, he’d alert the counselor at that child’s school, who, in turn, would take a red envelope and deliver it to the child’s teacher. Inside was a slip of paper with a student’s name and a quick prescription for “TLC.”

A Sunday night, disrupted by violence, panic, and 911 calls, surely will make it difficult for a child to settle down to learn on Monday morning. But, even more than that, researchers have found that exposure to unrelenting stress and repeated traumas can change a child’s brain, making it easier to “fight or flee” from perceived dangers and harder to focus and learn. Understanding this neuroscience makes it possible for educators to create trauma-sensitive classroom.

“It’s more than one or two children in your class of 28, it could be closer to 30 percent or more,” Snelgrove tells his colleagues. But even children who haven’t experienced trauma will benefit from the strategies that Brockton teachers and education support professionals have learned through years of training with the Massachusetts-based Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, and their partnerships with local police, mental health, and child welfare agencies.

“Be consistent, be kind, focus on connecting with kids,” he urges.

The Traumatized Brain

Back in the 1990s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, working with very obese adults, discovered that a shocking majority of his patients had suffered significant traumas during childhood. Eventually, his work led to a mega-study, involving tens of thousands of patients, which showed the long-lasting effects of “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs, such as child neglect or abuse, or a parent with addiction or imprisoned. Those children often grow up to be adults who are more likely to be sick, to be violent, to miss work, and to marry often.

Since then, it’s become clear that the damaging effects of trauma are not saved until adulthood. It starts early and it affects students and teachers: in fact, kindergartners who have had tough experiences score below-average in reading and math, even when other factors like household income and parental education are considered, a study published this year found. Those traumatized 5-year-olds also are three times more likely to have problems with paying attention, and two times more likely to show aggression.

What neuropsychologists have found is that traumatic experiences actually can alter children’s brains. In times of great stress, or trauma, the brain activates its deeply instinctive, “fight, flight, or freeze” responses, while dialing down the areas of the brain where learning, especially around language, takes place. When this happens over and again, especially in children under age 5, the brain is fundamentally changed. Basically, it adapts for survival under the worst conditions.

“It’s an appropriate adaptation to their circumstances,” says Amanda Moreno, professor of early-child development at the Erikson Institute in Chicago. “But it comes at enormous cost to schooling, especially with the way we do schooling in this country, which is very standardized.”

Traumatized 5-year-olds are three times more likely to have problems with paying attention, and two times more likely to show aggression.

Veteran Illinois special education teacher Kathi Ritchie knows what this looks like in a classroom: “You will see kids struggling with all areas of language, word retrieval, writing … memory suffers hugely. They tend to be forgetful. They don’t remember content-area ideas that have been taught to them; the next day it’s like they never were taught,” she says. “The other thing that is huge is the behavior.”

Living in a constant, fear-activated state of hyper-awareness means these children can be quick to rage, Ritchie has seen. In their subconscious efforts to self-protect, they often can be perceived as defiant, disrespectful or overly aggressive. Others may look like they’re zoning out or drifting off, she says. “It can look like kids are shutting down, but their brain is telling them, ‘You need to be safe.’ ”

Calming Colors, Safe Spaces, Mindfulness

So what’s an educator to do? First, here’s what not to do: Punish a child for showing the symptoms of a medical disorder. Trauma and stressor disorders can be found in the most up-to-date Bible of mental health disorders and diagnoses, the DSM-V, which means they are a real medical issue. Out-of-school suspensions are an inappropriate response and likely feed the school-to-prison pipeline.

Instead, what helps is to create a trauma-sensitive classroom where kids can feel safe and build resilience. Although Snelgrove no longer receives faxes from the local police because of revised confidentiality requirements, he hopes the “universal precautions” that Brockton teachers and education support professionals have embraced will catch any student who has experienced trauma.

Trauma-sensitive teachers often offer a “comfort zone” to their students, a safe space where kids can retreat and calm down. Sometimes it’s as simple as a beanbag chair. Their classrooms also are neat and uncluttered. Think about how you feel coming home to a messy house, Snelgrove says. A little overwhelmed, right? It’s worse for hyper-aroused children. Cool colors reign on the walls.

Ritchie also recommends teaching strategies that include predictable classroom routines with advance warning to students of any changes; asking students to repeat verbal instructions, using more written instructions, and also using visual prompts for multi-step directions, like a sticky post-it note on a desk. All students can benefit from short “movement breaks” every 30 minutes to “reframe the brain,” she says.

Moreno’s research currently involves the effects of mindfulness exercises on students in some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods. Although her study is not yet complete, teachers and principals have told her that the time they are spending on mindfulness actually is leading to more time for instruction. Students refocus more quickly after transitions, and calm down after upsets. This makes classrooms more efficient, but it also helps with an even bigger goal: Helping children grow up to be healthy adults.

You will see kids struggling with all areas of language, word retrieval, writing … memory suffers hugely.

– Kathi Ritchie, special education teacher.

Apart from employing a mindfulness curricula, or classroom yoga practices, which also are gaining popularity, simply greeting students at the start of the day and “acknowledging their humanity” before diving into tasks will help, Moreno says. With all the demands placed on teachers, it can be difficult, even “radical,” for teachers to slow down the pace of their classes and to take time with every student, but it will pay dividends, she says.

In Brockton, Snelgrove appreciates his district’s leaders for investing in years of trauma-related training for teachers and education support professionals, and developing partnerships with police, mental health, and child welfare agencies. This isn’t the stuff that appears on state-mandated standardized tests, he acknowledges. But it is the stuff that engages the “hearts and minds” of teachers and education support professionals, he says.

“We’re not perfect, and I know we have a way to go, but when we talk about the whole child, we mean it.”


Joy of Learning through Rhythmic Brain-Body Kinetics



Why Children Need to Play Outside By: NeuroNet


Cognition and gait show a distinct pattern of association in the general population

Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association

Volume 10, Issue 3 , Pages 328-335, May 2014

• Vincentius J.A. Verlinden, Jos N. van der Geest, Albert Hofman, M. Arfan Ikram


With brain aging, cognition and gait deteriorate in several domains. However, the interrelationship between cognitive and gait domains remains unclear. We investigated the independent associations between cognitive and gait domains in a community-dwelling population.


In the Rotterdam Study, 1232 participants underwent cognitive and gait assessment. Cognitive assessment included memory, information processing speed, fine motor speed, and executive function. Gait was summarized into seven independent domains: Rhythm, Variability, Phases, Pace, Tandem, Turning, and Base of Support. With multivariate linear regression, independent associations between cognitive and gait domains were investigated.


Information processing speed associated with Rhythm, fine motor speed with Tandem, and executive function with Pace. The effect sizes corresponded to a 5- to 10-year deterioration in gait.


Cognition and gait show a distinct pattern of association. These data accentuate the close, but complicated, relation between cognition and gait, and they may aid in unraveling the broader spectrum of the effects of brain aging.

The Rotterdam Study is sponsored by the Erasmus Medical Center and Erasmus University Rotterdam; the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO); the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMW); the Research Institute for Diseases in the Elderly (RIDE); the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science; the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sports; the European Commission (DG XII); and the Municipality of Rotterdam. J. N. van der Geest was supported by the Prinses Beatrix Fonds. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.



“Stability of Core Language Skill from Early Childhood to Adolescence: A Latent Variable Approach.”

When it Comes to Language Skills, the Early Years are Crucial

By: NeuroNet
language skills Children’s core language skills are more malleable during the early stages of development. As children reach adolescence, their language skills appear to be more fixed; therefore, improving older children’s core language skills becomes increasingly difficult.

The results, published in Child Development, further highlight the importance of early intervention to improve children’s language skills. The longer parents wait to seek help for their child’s language skills the more challenging it becomes to alter lower language proficiency.

In the current long-term study, researchers examined a child’s core language skills at 20 months then at 4, 10, and 14 years. In doing so, this helped researchers to better understand the issue of stability in language development from early childhood to adolescence.

Researchers obtained video-recorded speech samples of the 324 participants at ages 20 months and 4 years. Additionally, at all four points in time, researchers assessed children’s language abilities from reports given by their mothers and standardized language assessments.

The findings revealed differences in children’s core language skill from the end of infancy to adolescence. As children reached the ages of 10 and 14 their language skills were more stable and less likely to change; however, children’s language abilities did shift between the age of 20 months and 4 years.

Based on these results, researchers suggest children’s early years are crucial to language skills development. Language skills are essential for learning, communicating, and building relationships with others.

Here are some activities for encouraging speech and language development in young children:

  • Read aloud to your children.
  • Use gestures such as waving goodbye to help convey meaning.
  • Expand upon the words your child uses.
  • Use good speech that is clear and simple for your child to model.
  • Ask your child questions that require a choice. “Do you want apple juice or orange juice with your breakfast?”
  • Sing simple songs and recite nursery rhythms to show the rhythm and pattern of speech.

NeuroNet note: NeuroNet programs consist of movement exercises that incorporate rhythmic movement, listening, and talking. As children progress through the program levels they improve their ability to learn and automate new exercises, a key step in the process of developing learning readiness.

Peer-reviewed journal reference:
Bornstein, Marc H., Chun-Shin Hahn, Diane L. Putnick, and Joan T. D. Suwalsky. 2013. “Stability of Core Language Skill from Early Childhood to Adolescence: A Latent Variable Approach.” Child Development (early release).

Photo credit: Tom Carmony via Flickr CC


Moving to the rhythm 'can help language skills'


The researchers set out to investigate the link between music and language

By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News

Moving in time to a steady beat is closely linked to better language skills, a study suggests.

People who performed better on rhythmic tests also showed enhanced neural responses to speech sounds.

The researchers suggest that practising music could improve other skills, particularly speech.

In the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors argue that rhythm is an integral part of language.

"We know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills," said Nina Kraus, of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois.

More than 100 teenagers were asked to tap their fingers along to a beat. Their accuracy was measured by how closely their responses matched the timing of a metronome.

Next, in order to understand the biological basis of rhythmic ability, the team also measured the brainwaves of their participants with electrodes, a technique called electroencephalography. This was to observe the electrical activity in the brain in response to sound.

Those with musical training had enhanced brain responses to speech sounds

Using this biological approach, the researchers found that those who had better musical training also had enhanced neural responses to speech sounds. In poorer readers this response was diminished.

'Neural jitter'

"It turns out that kids who are poor readers have a lot of difficulty doing this motor task and following the beat. In both speech and music, rhythm provides a temporal map with signposts to the most likely locations of meaningful input," Prof Kraus told BBC News.

The brainwaves recorded matched the soundwaves, she said. "You can even take the recorded brainwave and play it back through your speaker and it will sound like the soundwave.

"It seems that the same ingredients that are important for reading are strengthened with musical experience. Musicians have highly consistent auditory-neural responses.

"It may be that musical training - with its emphasis on rhythmic skills - can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential for learning to read," added Prof Kraus

John Iversen of the University of California in San Diego studies how the brain processes music. He was not involved with the research but agreed that musical training could have important impacts on the brain.

"This study adds another piece to the puzzle in the emerging story suggesting that musical-rhythmic abilities are correlated with improved performance in non-music areas, particularly language," he said.



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