Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Great Adventure

"Discover all the new horizons, just waiting to be explored.
This is what we were created for....
Saddle up your horses, we've got a trail to blaze." **

Giddy-up, cowpokes!  I have just returned home energized and ready to dig in after a weekend at NY State PTA Summer Leadership Conference.  Added to that, it was a whole western theme, so I also have these images of cowboy hats and cowboy boots dancing in my head (so much for visions of sugarplums).

This year, I had my partner in crime with me.  She is the Thelma to my Louise.  In the past, we have travelled to New York City together for an eduction debate, and also attended New York State PTA Convention together.  When we travel together, the two of us will often brainstorm in such a way about PTA and what we can do better to accomplish more, and this trip was no different.  The two of us were in our natural element attending a weekend of leadership development and advocacy training with other like-minded PTA members.

Throughout the weekend, I attended workshops on effective communication and tips to engage your own board members, reviewed a list to keep our PTA unit in compliance and on-track, received training on proper tax document preparation (the numbers-nerd in me was completely intrigued!), and sat in on discussions on the current hot topics in education, as well as strategies to advocate more effectively throughout the year for our students.  To be clear, I've sat in on both of these last two workshops multiple times throughout the past year, but each time the dialogue is different, the ideas are fresh, and the conversation always turns in a new direction than before - which allows us to have these "lightbulb" moments that we can return with to our own school districts and take action on.

A few stand out items from this weekend:

  • If your PTA unit can effectively communicate with one another, you open the door for more creative ideas, and in the process, set your PTA unit on a course for longevity.
  • How are we furthering the mission of making every child's potential a reality and engaging our families in the education of their children if all we do is fundraise and "buy stuff?"  Advocacy takes action! 
  • Filing your unit's 990 for the IRS is not for the faint of heart, but is completely do-able. Stay strong treasurers, you can do it!! 
  • Proper training is absolutely essential.  I came away from this weekend with a multitude of ideas for implementation, and even more "I had no idea about that" moments that made me realize there is always an opportunity to learn something new!
  • The Every Student Succeeds Act is high on my radar right now, and parents still have A LOT of concerns and questions about education needs.  
    • We still want more communication about Common Core and making the standards more appropriate for our children,
    • we want our kids safe in school, 
    • we want all students to have access to technology, and
    • we have no patience for unfunded mandates being passed down to our schools.
There is still much work to be done.  However, after this Summer Leadership weekend, there is now an entire group of advocates who are empowered to move forward and do some really amazing things for every child.

NYS PTA Summer Leadership Conference 2016 -
Photo by Kyle Belokopitsky, Executive Director and PTA Rock Star.


**"Great Adventure", written by Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Who I Am

A few years ago, I had made the decision to run for a seat on my local school board.   I made the decision. I was not asked to do it by anybody looking for their own end result. I was also not asked to run to counter someone else's decision to seek out one of the available seats. When I made the decision that I was going to pursue this, I thought hard and I prayed even harder. I always wanted to be certain that I was doing this for the right reason. The reason always being that I knew that I had a purpose that I was called for, and fully believing in my own children's public education.

Make no mistake, the loss of that election still stings.

I know that I'm called to advocate on behalf of children and public education.  I know this with every fiber of my being.  Certainly, there have been many times when I have closed up my computer and went to bed at night thinking I couldn't possibly read one more article, send one more email, make one more phone call...and yet the next day I wake up and it's still in me.

That urge to make sure that all children have a voice speaking up on their behalf.

I have many friends who are education advocates in their own communities, and they've won their sought after school board seats, or were appointed to their desired committees.  Sometimes the temptation is overwhelming to slump in a corner and have a little pity party for myself for being the resident loser.

But that's NOT who I am called to be.

You had a purpose BEFORE anyone had an opinion. Remember that. What God anoints you with, man CANNOT take away from you.

My purpose that He's called me to is greater than the opinion of a select few.   Every single day as I connect with one more fellow advocate, or speak to one more New York State Legislator, or help to educate one more parent, I will constantly remind myself...

I am who He says that I am and I can do what He says I can do.

So I begin another year deciphering the sometimes chaotic state of public education within our state, and I will continue to put one foot in front of the other, and move forward.  Some days will be harder than others.  Some days may very will be a "close up the computer and just go to bed" kind-of day.  

Then there will also be those days when for a brief moment in time I can sit back and just grin silently to myself knowing that I helped to do what He knew all along that I could do.  


Monday, May 2, 2016

Thrive Experience

(Mr. D. and myself were both given 4-day sample packs to try out this Thrive product.  I mentioned to him that we should try doing it together to see how we each might react differently.  After 4 days of waiting for the green light that he was ready to try this, he was still sitting stalled at the starting block.  Therefore I announced to him that my 4-day sample had turned into an 8 day sample, and I  confiscated his sample pack.  What follows are my notes about my first 4 days...)

Day #1:
Today, I woke up at my normal time, in my normal manner, and I felt the slightest twinge of an oncoming headache as I dragged myself to the shower. "Dragged" being the key word.  I don't do mornings, and I certainly don't foresee "Thriving" in the mornings.  While I was in the shower I suddenly remembered the capsule I was supposed to take to start this whole process.  A single capsule filled with possibly more vitamins and nutrients than I normally consume in an entire day - possibly an entire week.  A capsule that I'm supposed to ingest with a full glass of water  - on an empty stomach.

(Who drinks a whole glass of water as their first daily intake?) 

Today I did....and that alone was a big step for me.  If nothing else, I drank one entire glass of water for the day. One glass down, multiple glassfuls to go (I certainly don't foresee that happening either - water is boring...I prefer bubbles!  And flavor!!).

I could have also had one of the shake mixes this morning - but again, that was also to be done on an empty stomach, 20-40 minutes after the capsule...and I just wasn't prepared to spend that kind of time trying to stomach a new "shake" on an empty stomach prior to finally being able to eat breakfast.  (**Note to self: take capsule as soon as I wake up, and drink the shake after my shower.)

Here's what I've noticed today:
8:45 - starting my day at work, outside, and greeting children as they come to school.  And oddly enough, singing a jazzy little tune in my head and tapping the beat out on my thigh in between students.  (There may also have been a moment where I very nearly skipped a few steps ...maybe.)

Was this it? Was I really "Thriving" already?  Or was it the warm morning, the sun peaking through the clouds and the fact that I live in Buffalo and didn't have to wear a coat this morning?  Who knows.  But it was a good start to the day.

Between 9:15 and 11:00 I was flying around work, very busy.    About 11:00 I remembered thinking, "headache is getting worse, should really take something."  Of course I had nothing with me to take, and given there was a little caffeine already in the capsule I'd taken, I wasn't sure Excedrin Migraine with it's add'l caffeine was the best idea....

I will say for certain that this headache was NOT a Thrive issue, since my head was hurting when I woke up this morning - my eating habits were thrown off, and then there was that pizza party with 36 kids in a classroom that happened.  

Yeah, anybody would get a headache from that.

Day #2:
Another full glass of water, another capsule.  This morning I added the shake mix to the routine.  The package said to mix with 8-10oz of water or milk.  I went with milk because I had already had a full glass of water with the capsule - you know, mixing it up for varieties sake!

Gotta be honest - It was like drinking a glassful of cake batter.

Remember -  I like sweets, and I like lots of "crap" that just isn't good for me.  You might think drinking straight cake batter would be delicious - well you would also be VERY surprised.

Anyway, I got about 80% of it down before it started coming back up on my last try.  Eh...80% more vitamins and nutrients is better than nothing right??  I ate a bowl of cereal, and went on to work - I wasn't singing to myself today, but I was still going along - it's Friday!!

My lunch that day consisted of a skinny little 1/3 slice of pizza and a "thumb-sized" eclair and another whole 10 oz of water (really need to drink more water, I know!!)  Oddly enough, I was satisfied with that.

That evening I had a school event that I needed to set up for, so I missed dinner - but I didn't really "miss" having dinner - I wasn't hungry until after I got home at 9:30pm.

Today's Observation:  The afternoon exhaustion did kick in again - so I'm definitely not Thriving at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Day #3:
Bumped myself up to two capsules today.  I had sat a glass of water out last night so it would be room temp and easier to drink first thing this morning.  Hubby, in his anxiety to clean up the kitchen before work, dumped it out.  Another day, drinking ice cold water first thing on an empty stomach.

I debated how in the world I would stomach today's shake.  What I discovered is that the vanilla shake mixed with water is just as bad as yesterday's cake batter mixed with milk.  Note to self....pick up bananas at grocery store to make this go down easier.  Or maybe an alcoholic beverage??  There was no way I was going to be able to drink a glass of this stuff down again, so I "cheated".  I thought that I was supposed to drink the stuff on an empty stomach, but  I made toast to accompany it. Actually, I burnt toast (unintentionally - but at least I'll be really thirsty!!).

Unfortunately, the burnt toast method did NOT work.  At all.  And I'm not just saying that this mix just tasted too horrible to drink.  I'm saying that when it comes back up, there's just no making it go down again.  So, tomorrow I will try the chocolate mix (because isn't chocolate always better?), and a banana...and some Hershey's syrup maybe.  (KIDDING!!)  I still have a few vanilla packets left, so I will definitely be researching recipes on how to help that flavor go down a little easier.

I've set a goal to drink 4 glasses of water today - I already have one down thanks to my capsule intake this morning...and now my glass of water is sitting on my counter - almost mocking me.  I know that four 8-oz glasses of water is not even close to what I'm supposed to be drinking, but I think this is a very attainable goal for me, considering that I normally drink NO water.  Repeat after me:
"32 ounces is better than none." 

Today's Observation:  I'm not craving crap that I normally like to eat.  I'm drinking water, and I'm not craving the usual junk.  Semi-impressed!!

(And a bonus...YES, I did drink all glasses of water!!)

Starting the day with my 2 Capsules and a full glass of water, and switching things up this morning with the CHOCOLATE shake mix.

Whomever it was that said chocolate makes everything better (maybe that was me?), was absolutely right.  The chocolate concoction was sooooo much easier going down than the vanilla.

I also have this patch thing on my shoulder.  The instructions read that I was to apply it to a lean portion of my body.  That took some creativity as I'm not sure that there is a lean portion on my body!!

Today's Observation: On Sundays I am usually extremely hungry well before the time my church lets out, as well as very irritable by the time I get home - you know..."HANGRY".  However, as I was  writing today's update, dinner is on the grill and yes, I'm hungry - because it's 1:00pm and it's time to eat! But I'm not hungry AND irritable at the same time.  Big difference - just ask my family ;)

Repeating the 4 glasses of water challenge for myself today was a little tougher, but I made it through three of them.

After 8 days, the biggest differences that I've noticed (as already mentioned) are that I'm drinking more water and I'm not craving the "convenient-yet-horrible-for-me" foods.  I've decided to stay on this for a little while longer to help establish these better habits for myself.  So I'm giving it 4 more weeks.  It's been said that it takes 28 days to form a habit.

Game on!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

We Still Refuse

I have had a number of people message me asking me about this year's state assessments that our children are scheduled to take beginning next week.  After all, NY State has been trying really hard to make sure that we know they've heard parent's concerns, that they've made changes, and they would like us to trust them.

I blindly trusted NY State 5 years ago, with the implementation of the Common Core Standards when they began building their freaking airplane while it was still in the air.

No More. 

I trust my children's teachers who are the true educators.  I trust them to be able to make thoughtful and accurate decisions regarding my children and what they are learning.  I can not trust individuals who are so far removed from the classroom that they're unaware of what is happening in the classroom from one day to the next.  I can not trust a system that has not yet proven itself and by its own admission has been full of mistakes, confusion, and inappropriate standards.

This is why my children are refusing NY State Assessments...AGAIN.  Yes, there is a new test vendor.  A vendor who has yet to prove themselves worthy, and who is currently relying on the previous vendor's question bank.  Yes there are less questions, but removing a single reading passage along with a small handful of questions that were developmentally inappropriate to begin with is just not enough.  I can not trust you, NY State, when your system is still one big guessing game that you're just holding your breath... hoping it might work.

Still Refusing in NY State,


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mrs. D. Goes to Albany

Standing in the NY State Senate Chamber
There comes a time when you think you know what you're supposed to do in life, or when what you may do with your life when you finally grow up becomes clear and you actually get the opportunity to go out and do it.  When you've found what you're called to do, at least for this moment in time.

This past Monday, the realization hit me.  I've found my purpose.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Albany to be a part of New York State PTA's Legislative Education Conference (or "LegEd" for short) and Lobby Day.  Given that I am the current Education Chair for my Regional PTA, and I've spent the past 4-5 years reading more education news from our state than I ever thought I would in my life, I anticipated the weekend with more than just a little excitement.  It seemed like a nearly perfect fit.

I say a "nearly" perfect fit, because I knew going in that there are a few areas where National PTA's position and my personal position just don't always agree.  But I have come to realize that I'm okay with that.  Where I stand personally is what I believe to be in the best interest for MY children and their education, and as the parent, that is my right - and THAT is something that National PTA and I can agree on.

As I attended workshops on Saturday and Sunday for this LegEd Conference, I sat with 90 other fellow advocates.  These were all NYS PTA members who were and are just as concerned as I am about the "hot button" education issues that continuously keep us guessing in our state.  We were also looking to gain additional insight on how to become better and more effective advocates for our students and families in our own school districts.

It was on Sunday afternoon, however, when I gathered with a smaller group. 18 NYS PTA members who had something to say, who wanted to be heard, and we represented the entire state from Buffalo to Long Island.  18 individuals who headed to our State Capitol Building to meet with legislators to discuss specific issues on funding education, early childhood education, family engagement, and the health & wellness of our students.  

Specifically, our Governor's budget proposal just does not adequately address the education needs of our state.  

No surprise there, right?

Six different meetings - six different experiences that I took away from each one.  I didn't take the opportunity to meet with my own local legislators, as this day was about key meetings with key individuals.

Our first meeting was with the Assembly Education Committee Chair's Chief of Staff.  Although we were unable to meet with Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan herself due to a funeral, her staff members spent a lot of time sitting down with us and listening. (I love when you can just tell that they're really listening!) Probably the longest meeting of our day, I was confident they would be taking our information and presenting it to the Assemblywoman with our concerns.

Senate Majority Leader, John Flanagan's staff members met with us for what ended up being a very quick meeting, but still very attentive.  I was concerned at first that this was a "you're on our schedule, but we're not really paying attention to you" meeting.  However, after presenting our positions to them, they did ask questions, they did prod for more info, and they did dialogue briefly before running to their next meeting.  The time was certainly appreciated! (And as a bonus we ran into our fellow lobbying group from North Rockland who were there advocating for full-day Kindergarten in their district!)

Our next meeting with the Governor's Deputy Secretary of Education...well that was an opposite conversation.  It really is true that you just can't win them all.  He was polite, he listened, and he may or may not have done some dancing around our positions.  I would like to believe, however, that we all agree that the heroin and prescription opiates epidemic are devastating to our families across New York State.  

Our meeting with Senator Marcellino, head of the Senate Education Committee, was a high point, because I think he just "got it".  We were able to engage in a real two-way dialogue with him, and I believe he heard what we were saying and realized the importance of what we were asking.
  • A minimum $2.2 billion school aid increase to ensure educational equity and to meet state expectations.
  • Supporting the Regents request to fund family engagement efforts.
  • PREDICTABLY fund early education in NYS
  • Support NYS PTA initiatives to improve response to heroin and opiate/opiod abuse.

During what was supposed to be our final official meeting of the day, we met with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's staff member.  Personally, I found him difficult to get a good read on...a personable fellow, yet I got the impression his mind was going in about 15 different directions.  (Although, I imagine as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Assembly Speaker, it probably was.) ** On a side note, I let him borrow my pen - my favorite pen - and I'm guessing that it is currently making its way through the New York State Assembly since I never got it back.  That's right - Making history through writing utensils!!

When our scheduled appointments had finished, and we had walked back and forth between the Legislative Office Buildings and the Capitol Building at least three different times, our group made our way to one last-minute scheduled meet and greet.  One of our members had contacted Senator David Carlucci, and although it was only a brief moment, it was another set of ears hearing what we were advocating for.  

At the end of the day, this is what I know:  Public education and our children are getting the short end of the stick financially, and families are finding themselves in a living nightmare because of heroin and opioid/opiate abuse.  This particular weekend was just one way to be a voice and make sure that the funding will be there to begin to fix what is broken within the system and most importantly to educate.  This is what I will continue to advocate for whenever I can, because my children - and every child - deserves to have the very best opportunities available to them.


Monday, February 1, 2016

A Disappointed Advocate

***The following post represents MY personal thoughts, and should not be considered as representative of any unit, group, or association.

I am a PTA member.   

That makes me a member of my local unit, my Regional PTA, the New York State PTA, and also the National PTA.  I've been a member for eight years, and seven of those years have been spent volunteering as an officer in my local unit.  That's right, I jumped in head-first and never looked back.  I don't remember why I felt such an urge to join...I had heard rumblings and rumors trying to sway me away from becoming a part of this group, but I knew that I wanted to be involved with what my three monkey children were doing...really involved. So I took the plunge and dove right in.

Today, however, public education is an entirely different animal, and I am a completely different PTA member than who I was when I first started on this journey many years ago. 

Eight years ago, the Common Core didn't exist and I wasn't even thinking about whether or not any tests that my children would be taking in their future school years would be appropriate, used for evaluating their teachers, or tied to funding for my school district.  Instead, as a new PTA member, I was merely looking at things like Bake Sales, Bingo, and Fundraising ideas.  At the local level, those are all great and important things that we do to help enrich our children's education experience.  We bring educational programs into the school, host "family fun nights",  and help to provide all of those little extras that our students would be missing were it not for our group securing it for every single student. When I became a PTA member, that's all it was about for me.

Today, I am a PTA member who is informed and educated on hot button issues.  I am a PTA member who is just starting to get a grasp on what this association is capable of at the local, state, and national level.  This isn't just another parent group who is merely looking to run your building's Field Day activities.  Any parent organization is capable of doing that. 

But when was the last time your local PTOther effectively advocated and had a part in:
  • The creation of Kindergarten
  • Safe buses and seatbelt regulations
  • Nationwide school lunch program
  • Improved playground safety
  • School libraries
  • Arts in education
As a PTA member, I've seen in my own state how we also have a respected voice and a seat at the table when it comes to effective lobbying for fair and equitable funding for our schools. The PTA is a resounding voice that is heard not only locally but across the state.

All of these examples have something in common - they have the potential to impact EVERY child in our public school systems.  This is advocacy, and this is PTA, and this is who I am at my very core.


Today, I am unhappy with my national association.  Today I feel ...betrayed by the National PTA.

With the release of their latest position statement on "Student Assessment and Opt-Out Policies", I am disappointed and disenchanted with this national level of my advocacy association.  It's a statement that is supposed to be, by the group's own mission, a voice for EVERY child.  Yet I can't help but wonder if my fellow parents of 240,000 students who made the choice to refuse the NY State Assessments last spring, are feeling that our own children's voices have been ignored at the National PTA level.  

This new statement that "calls for all students to participate in high-quality, comprehensive assessments that measure their growth and achievement so all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential" is full of pro-assessment verbiage that speaks of the woes of the opt-out movement, and its supposed detrimental effects to our students, except for a very brief mention that is almost buried in down in the 4th paragraph.
While we recognize that parents are a child’s first teacher and respect the rights of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, the association believes the consequences of nonparticipation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. 
Let me be clear that I have never been against my children participating in high quality assessments - the key being "high quality".  Children (and parents) are still navigating their way through the disaster of the Common Core implementation here in New York State.  And I am completely opposed to my children continuing to be used as guinea pigs with an assessment system that has not yet proven itself to our public education system here in New York State.  

In a nutshell - in New York state, we're still waiting for those high quality assessments that the National PTA wants all of our children to participate in.

Since the release of, and in response to the National PTA's position statement, I've listened to parents advise one another to drop their PTA membership, or to push to become a PTOther in their buildings.  Let me be clear that I am NOT about to do that.  I've worked side by side with some pretty amazing PTA advocates in New York State doing some pretty amazing things.  It is the local, regional and state level units that are making changes, and are tirelessly advocating for your students and families.  I know, because I've witnessed it first hand.  

As a parent, however, I will continue to make this decision on behalf of my children, and they will, AGAIN, refuse this year's New York state assessments.  Many other parents across the country, like myself, were looking to the National PTA to support and advocate for ALL families, those who will choose to participate AND those who will not.  I believe, however, that this position statement from the national level is a slap in the face of our membership, and very nearly dismisses the voice of almost half a million children nationwide whose families have made the educated choice to refuse.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Blessings

A six-hour drive to Michigan, and tonight the monkey children are all nestled and snug in their...air mattresses, as visions of sugarplums dance in their heads.  Actually, it's probably dreams of Lego Dimensions, Nerf guns, and One Direction CD's.  But dreams and innocence of a child nonetheless.

As we drove down the road, arriving at my mother's house for the holiday season, the glow of her Christmas tree was visible as we pulled into the driveway.  It's not the family home that I was returning to, but just the same, that glow of lights through the window was enough to make me smile and break into song, "There's no place like home for the holidays".

This Christmas I know and appreciate so very much the love of my family around me.

I have a full holiday planned with my mother, brother, and grandparents.  Family members that I love but cannot see or spend time with except for the few times of the year that we make this return trip "home."

It was in the middle of creating pies for tomorrow's Christmas feast, that I realized I had never made a pie with my mom before tonight. (The whole pie-baking skill is something I only just recently acquired.)  I smiled as she taught me her secrets and we created four beautiful works of pastry art for Christmas dinner.
We schemed as she wrapped her remaining gifts, even as the youngest awoke from his sugarplums vision, to wander into the bathroom.  We giggled together seeing his impending concern that there were still no gifts under tree - what was taking Santa so long to arrive?

In the middle of my personal Norman Rockwell Christmas Eve, I had to stop and remember.  I thought of 3 of my closest friends at home who are missing their parents this holiday season.  I am very blessed to have both parents still here but I often take it for granted.  May we never get so busy and wrapped up in the craziness of the season to forget those whose hearts are still healing instead of celebrating with the rest of us.