Category Archives: Schools

Telling stories – Adam Gidwitz

Last week, author Adam Gidwitz visited my school and spent the day doing presentations and hanging out with kids, and it was incredible. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but last year’s The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my favorite recent reads. It’s a book that is difficult to sort into a definitive genre, but it has historic fiction, fantasy and adventure elements that combine beautifully into a wonderful story told in multiple voices a la The Canterbury Tales. Except that, unlike my high school experience suffering through Chaucer, this book was a joy from start to finish.

Adam did three separate presentations for my students and each was slightly tweaked to meet the population, in this case, our school’s grades of sixth, seventh and eighth. I was totally impressed with his comfort level with our students and his genuine interest in them. For instance, as students were filing in to the auditorium he made a point of introducing himself to those already seated with an easy “Hi, I’m Adam. What’s your name?” His past career as “the worst teacher in NYC,”* was proven impossible to believe. He gets kids.

We had lunch as a group of about 25 and it was relaxed and fun. I know the kids who were present won’t ever forget the experience. It was so cool. The last presentation was with our sixth graders and it was magic to see him wrangle that group of pre-pubescent kids, on the last Friday afternoon of the school year, with just four words: Once upon a time…

Read his books and see him speak, if you have the chance. There’s a possibility that he might pop up in the area next year and I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

*laughingly self-defined as such

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Filed under Books, Education, Events, favorites, Librarians, Libraries, Local, Recommendations, Schools, Uncategorized

Valentine’s Day massacre – sponsored by the NRA

mw_template_2017Last night’s run took me along a route I don’t often get to experience on foot. I had plans to meet a friend down at Nine-Pin for Fin’s pop up, (and knew that stretching my legs before my upcoming flight would be beneficial), so I decided a downhill run to the Warehouse District would check all the boxes. The weather, while damp, was refreshingly mild when I set off and my route to Broadway evolved as I made my way to the reward of a ginger cider and lobster mac and cheese.

I took State Street down to Washington Avenue, admiring the architecture and feeling appreciative to live in a city that is filled with beautiful buildings and parks. My mood was good and my body felt strong. I was happy until I noticed the flags flying at half-mast on numerous buildings. I mentally paused to consider what the occasion might be for the flags to have been lowered, quickly concluding that it must be an acknowledgement of the latest school massacre. I wonder whose job that is, to raise and lower flags each time American students are murdered in their classrooms. I expect that their arms must be pretty damn tired.

This morning, as I got ready to leave my house for work, the list of names of the most recent victims were read on the radio and I was compelled to stop what I was doing to listen. Their ages gutted me – many were just 14 or 15 years old. What was your biggest worry when you were that age? Zits? Making your school’s sports team or landing a role in the spring musical? Maybe an upcoming test or project? I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t concern over whether a classmate armed with a semi-automatic weapon would be shooting up your school that day.

Why are our elected officials ok with students being murdered while at school? I mean, they must find it acceptable, right? They continue to accept money from gun proponents and refuse to consider legislation that might prevent these sort of things from happening again and again and again. Doesn’t that make them complicit? I’ll answer that myself – Yes, our government is responsible for creating a situation in which civilians can purchase and possess firearms which can be used to perpetrate crimes like what we’ve witnessed time and time again in our country. They should held accountable in every way possible – sue them, vote them out, spread the word about how people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are beholden to the NRA.

Our children are not replaceable but every single one of these f*ckers who choose dollars over public safety are disposable. Let’s stop memorializing teenagers with stars and stripes and start ensuring that children who go to school in the morning return home in the afternoon on a bus and not in a body bag.

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Filed under Local, News, Observations, politics, Rant, Schools, Uncategorized

Have you ever imagined what it might be like to wake up the day after your 6-year-old was massacred?

I have. If I’m being completely honest, far more times than I’d like to acknowledge. If you’re a parent, I think you probably have, too. How could any human being not place themselves in the shoes of the 26 families who lost a child 5 years ago in an elementary school in a pretty little town in Connecticut?

That day is like 9/11 to me, etched on my heart and absolutely unforgettable. Maybe it’s the same for you?

I had indulged two of my three boys with a midweek (personal day) overnight stay at an indoor water park. My oldest son declined to come because he didn’t want to miss school, something I didn’t endorse lightly at that time. I’ve become more lenient about it since.

I remember it being late morning when I first became aware of the situation occurring in Newtown, CT. Reclined in a chaise lounge under a roof built mostly from glass, I checked my Twitter feed and saw news of a shooting at an elementary school. There was an image of children being led in a line outside of a brick building, a second shooter was being sought, and emergency vehicles looked to be everywhere. It was chaos and horror. I swear the sky clouded over and became gray. I wanted to go home.

As we packed up our bags, I monitored the situation on my phone. I looked at my own child, approximately a year older than most of the victims as it turned out, and imagined sending him to school and never seeing him alive again. On our drive south, I stopped at an unfamiliar branch of my bank to take care of something. As I stood in line for service, tears rolled down my face with quiet abandon. The other people in the bank had conversations in normal volume voices, certainly unaware of what had transpired, I imagined. I couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly continue to speak on a day in which primary school students and their teachers had been shot to death in their classrooms. What words could be said that had any meaning?

Every single day since then has been a new opportunity for our country to honor those lives lost. We can do better. We have to do better. No one should ever have to wake up a day after their child was massacred in their classroom.

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Vote No

I’m done with apologizing for my eventual pension and benefits. I fulfilled the educational requirements for a professional career, received a state license, and have worked more than two decades in public education to provide students with necessary intellectual and practical skills.

It’s been a privilege to get to know so many young people and quite frankly they, along with my colleagues, are the best part of my job. Despite what your impression may be, it isn’t always easy to be an educator. The hoops we’ve been forced to jump through in terms of testing and professional evaluations have stolen hours upon hours of time that could be better spent teaching and providing our students with opportunities for growth and individual attention. Bureaucracy has always been, to me, the Achilles heel of education.

In less than ten years I will retire and receive a pension and yes, Fred LeBrun, you can call it generous. I’m really sorry that you, Mr. LeBrun, work for a company that doesn’t do the right thing for their own employees, but I don’t believe that means I don’t deserve to have a good quality of life in my later years. In fact, I think it’s really unfortunate that every person in our incredibly wealthy country can’t look forward to having the same.

It seems to me that our collective efforts would be better spent working together to provide all Americans with an existence that allows for a stable life rather than attempting to eliminate teacher pensions through an opening of the New York State Constitution. We need to stop accepting the ever-widening wage disparity in our country and come together to demand health care and retirement benefits for all citizens. We’ve earned it.

Vote on November 7th – and don’t forget to address both the front and the back of the ballot.

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Filed under politics, Schools

Words can hurt, words can help

Recently the news has been filled reports about the YA book turned Netflix miniseries, 13 Reasons Why. I’ve read quite a few articles about the series and understand the potential for the program to “trigger” a reaction in those overwhelmed by depression and other issues that leave them vulnerable to the suggestion that suicide is a resolution to their struggles. I’ve already expressed my thoughts about suicide and the impact on those who are left behind to carry the weight of loss. That’s not my topic today.

I want to share something that happened yesterday that I can’t stop thinking about.

Each year at “my” library we are fortunate enough to schedule an author visit for our students. In the past we’ve targeted a particular grade, carefully rotating things around so that no class graduates without having had the opportunity to listen to a published author share their work and life story. This year we “split” an author, Ben Mikaelsen, with another suburban school district. Mr. Mikaelsen lives in Montana and being able to divide his expenses with another district made it possible for us to meet his honorarium and travel costs. It was kind of a big deal for us to have such an established author visit and we maximized our time with him by scheduling three individual presentations. All of our students would be able to listen to our special guest, and some would even be able to have lunch with him.

Lunch seems like such a simple thing, but I’m now convinced it can be so much more.

The presentations were engaging and the students were a great audience. Mikaelsen shared stories from his own childhood about being bullied and being a bully himself. He talked about the inherent weakness of bullies and the importance of writing our own stories, life stories that we create and reside within. He implored students to begin writing their own life stories the very minute they walked out of the auditorium and I could see the kids mulling the weightiness of his words.

Midday we had a couple of dozen students join the author for sandwiches and conversation in the Library Media Center, including one last minute addition that our principal sent down because he felt it would be a positive and meaningful experience for the child. After we ate, students filtered through getting their books signed until only one student remained, the one selected by the principal. The student approached Ben Mikaelsen and quietly said “I have a question for you.” After receiving an encouraging nod from the author, the child continued. “When does the bullying stop?”

I stepped away, tears in my eyes, to give them time to talk. Their conversation lasted a few minutes, enough time for me to grab an extra copy of one of Ben’s books, Touching Spirit Bear, and my camera. Ben signed the book for the child and they posed together for a photo. I’d like to think that young person left the library with far more than they had when they had arrived. And a book, too.

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Filed under Boys, Observations, Schools, television

Observations and the science fair

imageI’m a little ashamed for thinking, much less saying, this but … I really kind of detest the science fair. It isn’t because science isn’t really my thing, or that I’m opposed to exploring a topic of interest, it’s just that it turns into so much work without much reward. It’s hard to be excited about a process that comes with as many demands as a science experiment. Eh, maybe it’s just me.

Part of the science fair process involves observations which must be documented. In the spirit of research, I’ve got a few observations to share from my weekend. They’re in no particular order.

  • I’m not a bad feminist because I like Bernie more than I like Hillary.
  • The same is true when it comes the fact that I think it’s ok for a woman to want to look pretty when she leaves the house.
  • A winter walk with a friend and the dogs at the golf course makes for a perfect afternoon.
  • On a related note, lipstick has become my friend in a way it wasn’t until I was in my 40s.
  • Wearing a hat can be a real act of bravery. I’m not talking about a baseball cap, I mean a more bold chapeaux – something in a vivid colored felt or a generously proportioned straw number.
  • I don’t completely understand why folks get so uptight about getting older. I kind of think of adding years like putting another notch in my lipstick* case. It’s an accomplishment.
  • Recently, Delaware Avenue has been interesting to walk on, but scary to drive on. People really need to slow the hell down and stop being so aggressive behind the wheel.
  • In theory, I love brunch. What’s not to like about day drinking and someone other than me cooking and serving a meal? In reality, though, I just don’t have time for day drinking and a big meal midday. Maybe on vacation?
  • I thought the ribs I made on Saturday were pretty banging until I ate ribs at Jay and Karen’s. Never mind.
  • I’ve got an idea for this year’s science fair which just might be fun.  I’d say more but don’t want anyone co-opting our experiment.  Hint: it involves soda.

*what’s my obsession with lipstick?

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Filed under aging, Albany, Boys, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Exercise, Local, moms, Observations, Random, Schools, Uncategorized, winter

Birthdays and buildings – Vote Yes to AHS

new_exterior-washington_ave_view_1-16On February 9th my youngest child turns 11. I seriously don’t know even know where the last decade went. We brought him home from the hospital one winter afternoon and here it is a lifetime later. In an ironic way, the baby who was supposed to be my baby has grown up faster than either of his brothers. Such is life – grab the moments while you can.

This February 9th, I’ll be accompanying my boy and his classmates on their field trip to the Albany Institute of History and Art. I figure there aren’t many field trips left and I’m excited to spend his birthday with him and the exhibit, The Capital Region in 50 Objects interests me. It’s embarrassing how infrequently I get to the institute and I’m very much looking forward to seeing 50 objects which define the city where I have lived for more than half of my life.

Looking through the list of objects included in the display, I noticed a few buildings represented. As you might imagine, the Empire State Plaza and State Capitol are on the list, along with the residence of Stephen and Harriet Myers. You see, buildings are important and can help to define a city.

My children and I have witnessed the construction of a number of significant buildings in our lives here in Albany. I recall the construction of the Knickerbocker Arena Times Union Center and a number of other downtown buildings which have changed the landscape of our city. My children have benefited from the community investment made to improve libraries and both elementary and middle schools in our city and, as a parent, and taxpayer, I was pleased to support these initiatives. No longer do children in the city of Albany have to attend classes in buildings which are decrepit and lacking in modern amenities as was once the case.

This February 9th, we as a community again have the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the city and its children with A Vision for Tomorrow. While none of my children will directly benefit from this ambitious undertaking, I will gladly accept the small (approximately $25) addition to my annual tax bill.  It’s the right thing to do and will help to provide the best opportunity for our teens to succeed. If we can justify building an entire plaza to impress the Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands can’t we provide our own residents with a building for which they can feel pride?  Maybe you could think of it as a birthday gift to Quinn?

Need more information?  Check out one of these community forums and get yourself up to speed.  Let’s not allow a decision this big to be decided by a small group of voters.  Our kids deserve better.

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