Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Am...A Disappointed Advocate

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

Not long ago, an article was trending - "Why I Volunteered For the PTA (Even Though Everyone Told Me Not To)"  (Go ahead...read it...it's a good article!)  

When I first read it, I found myself nodding my head in agreement at pretty much everything the author had to say.  I am a PTA member myself, and I have been for eight years.  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'm 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 the middle of 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".   I am, however, 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, we're still waiting for those high quality assessments.

As a parent, I continue to make this decision on behalf of my children, and they will, AGAIN, refuse this year's NYS tests.  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 is a slap in the face of our membership and 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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I am an Advocate

Those who know me personally, know that I am passionate about my own kids' education.  I believe that, without a doubt, no one will advocate on their behalf more than I will.  That passion rolls over to their elementary, middle, and high schools, to our school district, and to students everywhere who deserve to have someone looking out for them, making certain they have healthy and safe options and opportunities in education and their community.

So what happens when 200 of the most die-hard and like-minded advocates for students from across the state of New York State get together for the weekend in one location?

Leaders are born and inspired, and change begins to happen.

As the current Vice-President of my son's elementary school PTSA, and having also been recently appointed to serve my Regional PTA Board as the Education Chair (Because apparently I actually enjoy reading and keeping tabs on what's happening in education!), it just made sense to accept the invitation to attend this summer's state PTA leadership conference.  I thought about it for all of about two minutes, before I excitedly said "yes!" and agreed to attend.

I've been an officer in my local PTSA unit for the past seven years and I felt pretty confident that I had a decent understanding of policy, procedure, and the in's and out's of PTA.  I already knew that this was a powerful group of passionate individuals that do so much more than just local fundraising and the annual family fun night at school.  I understood that PTA is also a state and national association that collectively keeps their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the lives of our children.

Over the course of this weekend I sat in on workshops concerning:
  • the current hot topics in education
  • the differences between a PTA and a "PTOther"
  • improving the PTA-Principal partnership in our school (which, for the record, is already pretty fantastic!)
  • key issues with the current testing trend in our schools
  • taking action through advocacy and lobbying for change.
  • how to involve youth members in our unit (because, after all, we're fighting FOR these students, who better to stand alongside with us?), and
  • education updates for students with disabilities.

By the end of my weekend, I had come to a very vivid conclusion - I was in the midst of fellow advocates who understood my passion and were just as committed as I am.

I "get" that there are personal opinions that I hold onto that don't always completely line-up with the  position that the PTA has chosen to take.  What I've come to realize is that it's okay.  PTA advocates for every child.  Some of the opinions I hold on to are just that.  Mine.  Not those of every child or family.  But those differing opinions are still being brought to the table by other advocacy groups.  Awareness IS being raised, people ARE listening, and change CAN happen.

This past year in the state of New York, and across the country, education has been and continues to top the news media sites.  Politics are being played with our children's public education, parents either love or hate the Common Core, mandates and reforms keep us guessing. More than ever, we need passionate people who will step forward, and be a part of the change the will allow opportunities for our students to continue to thrive.

We are raising our own next generation of advocates!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Meeting Jack In The Rain

This was one of those rare mornings when I was up, awake, showered, dressed, dropped a kid at designated location, and managing to run errands....all before 10:00.  These kinds of mornings don't generally happen very often when you're a "non-morning" person, and quite honestly, it amuses me when I find myself being that productive.

On this rare productive morning, I stopped at a local grocery store to pick up a few things.  It wasn't even my "normal" store, but one that I drive by frequently.  While I was standing in the check-out lane, I noticed that it was exceptionally dark outside...and raining.

Is there anything more frustrating than trying to load groceries in your car when it's raining?  How about when it's pouring rain?  Having to walk out into the rain with your shopping cart and dodge the drivers who don't see you but are only focused on the empty parking spot straight ahead.  Or attempting to avoid the small lakes that are forming in the parking lot, or shielding yourself from the raindrops - which is just physically impossible.

I stood just inside the automatic doors contemplating getting stupidly wet or waiting it out.  Knowing that my other two monkey children were waiting for me at home, however, made my decision for me.  I pulled up the hood on my jacket and got ready for shower #2 of the day (If only I had brought my body wash and shower poof with me.)

"I picked the wrong time to walk to the store."

I looked to my left and there was an older, distinguished-looking gentleman, in shorts and a t-shirt without a jacket.  I smiled at his attempt at levity and we both rolled our eyes at the wall of water falling outside.

I don't know what caused me to react instantly, but I did.

"Sir, where did you walk from? Can I give you a ride there?"

This gentleman looked at me in disbelief.  Yep.  I had just offered a stranger a ride.  (My poor mother  is probably reading this in horror thinking she failed at giving me the "stranger danger" talk.)

"Would you mind? Really?"

No, I didn't mind.  It was pouring rain and there was some minor flooding going on in the streets.  We could have rolled our eyes together at the weather and I could have walked out with my groceries, and not have had another thought about this stranger.

But I didn't.  The ride was basically just across the street and down the block a bit, but far enough that anyone walking would have been completely soaked and their bag of groceries water-logged.  And for that short 5 minutes, I got to meet Jack, and learn just a little bit about him (he used to work for the post office downtown for 30 years until he retired 8 years ago).  We exchanged a short pleasant conversation this morning at a time of day when I'm normally not even functioning.

As I drove home I thought about this chance encounter with Jack, and I said a quick thank-you for the opportunity I had been given to meet this gentleman.  May we never become so self-absorbed in our own little smart-phone worlds, or fearful of the evils of the world, that we miss the chance to help a stranger truly in need.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Hug Good-Bye

When you are moved in such a way to write about an individual, their life and their character, it's a telling way to remember them when they're so important to you.  It speaks volumes, however, when more than one person will find a way to express themselves, writing in such a way that you desperately want the world to know the importance of these people in your world.  My brother already penned his tribute to this special couple and he wrote the words that I couldn't find myself at first within those early hours.  Today my heart is sad because I will miss this woman's smile, but the memories of her are sweet....

Yesterday morning, I received a phone call from my mom (ashamedly before I had even managed to get out of bed on a lazy Wednesday morning) and her words echoed in my still-foggy brain.

"June's gone.  She passed away last night."

Sweet June.

When I think of June, immediately I remember her husband, Jiggs.  (Because the names "Jiggs & June" always rolled off the tongue together naturally.) He passed away some time ago, and ever since then, it just seemed that a piece was missing.

I remember as a little girl, our family would spend time at their home - and I remember thinking it was such a great house that was set back deep in a wooded area, with a driveway that twisted and turned and seemed to go on forever.  My brother remembers our family visiting while the men would discuss church business, but I just remember visiting because we would be in the area, "Hey! Let's stop in and visit Jiggs & June!" (See, I told you the names together just flowed naturally off of the tongue.) Whatever the reason for the visit, my family was always welcomed into their home as friends.  Jiggs would greet you with an enormous smile, a strong handshake and a slap on the shoulder, and June would greet us with open arms and would always hug and kiss us goodbye.  Much like my very own grandmother, whom she happened to be best friends with.

I remember my birthday parties, kindergarten graduation, extended family Christmas, high school graduation celebrations, and my own wedding....all of them included June and Jiggs as part of our family just as they had included us in their home.

It was a natural fit.

June also played a fierce piano.  On more than one occasion we would hear her practicing for Sunday's service - the sound of her fingernails clicking on the ivory keyboard and the music flowing almost effortlessly as she perfected the choruses that would be sung that weekend.  She had a gift.

It was not all that long ago when my mom received a phone call while living in Texas that would eventually lead her back to June.  A short time later, I had my own reunion with June and was able to introduce my children to this special woman.  I had moved out of state almost 20 years ago, but I wanted my children to know what she meant to me, and to be able to meet her for themselves.  Time and illness had caught up to us, and to June I was now merely "Shirley's daughter."  She no longer remembered me, but yet she still welcomed me into her home with a smile.

We recently returned "home" for a visit to mom during our Spring Break, and I was able to stop and have a quick visit with June in the facility where she had been staying. It was a mere 10 minutes, and she no longer remembered me even as "Shirley's daughter."  But those few minutes I was able to sit with her, and hold her hand while I visited with her were a treasure.

And in typical June fashion, she hugged me as I said goodbye to her.


Friday, March 27, 2015

The ACLU vs. Small-Town America

This week, I sat and watched from almost 400 miles away as the news broke on social media and online news outlets that the ACLU was taking issue with my alma mater in Ohio.  Small-town America at it's finest, it's a place I hope to never regret growing up in and graduating from high school.  

Since then, on more than one occasion, I've become angry.

To explain briefly, SOMEONE complained.  SOMEONE didn't like that the district was having religious assemblies prior to Thanksgiving and Christmas. SOMEONE didn't like that the school district values "honesty and Christian values" as stated in the high school student handbook.  Of course, who this particular SOMEONE is will remain a mystery for now, because they get to maintain their anonymity while the ACLU sends letters and makes threats on their behalf.

That angered me - because I don't do bullies.  Just ask any other education advocate in the state of New York right now.  We have one big bully sitting in office in Albany.
(But I digress...)

So is it really bullying?  I mean, let's face it...a public school system really CAN'T do those things.  So maybe I was just angry that said individual(s) didn't just make the attempt to handle it themselves with district leaders, but instead they went straight to the big guns.  Or maybe they did -  Had they been blown off?  

And all of THAT made me angry.

In complete transparency, I will admit that I have no recollection of having assemblies like those that are described by the complaint and what is being reported in the media.  I also don't recall the particular phrase in question from the handbook.  Shoot - I barely remember having a handbook!!  Whether that is because I'm older, and I simply can't remember those details or if it's because they just didn't happen 25 years ago - I have no idea.  

And that infuriates me (that I'm getting old)!

I was born and raised in this particular small town, and I don't think I could have had a more conservative Christian upbringing.  30 years ago, I might have even stood alongside my fellow Christians and yelled and kicked and screamed with the rest of them that my Christian beliefs were being infringed upon by attempting to silence these religious assemblies and unacceptance of a simple phrase of "Christian values".  

You know - I would have gotten angry.

I can just imagine the closed-mindedness of both sides.  Actually I don't have to imagine it, because I've spent the past few days reading it on social media as this story broke online.  There's just nothing like the ACLU taking on small-town America to make people go just a wee-bit crazy and light up the internet as they spout law, fact, scripture, and opinion to make their voices heard over one another.

Tonight, I am writing to hopefully help lift the blinders off of both sides of this argument that has unfolded on social media this week.  Online words of angry individuals who believed that this was a long time coming for the school district, and on the other hand, those who believed that their rights are being trampled on. Claims of intolerance, hatred, and ignorance - all tossed into that virtual arena as fast as fingers could fly across a keyboard.  

So here it is.   I'm going to make a statement that coming from a born and raised, good,  conservative Christan girl, it may just shock my former minister and Sunday school teachers back into their pews.

As much as it pains me to say this, IF  the complaint is accurate - and I have no certainty of this one way or the other - the ACLU would be correct, and indeed, "Houston, we have a problem."


Before you begin to write that hate mail, and before you begin to pray for me that my fundamentalist faith might be restored....


Because I would NEVER, under any circumstances, want or allow my own children to go to school and learn ONLY about Islam, or ONLY about Buddha, or ONLY about Wicca.  And it is that same freedom of religion that protects my children from that very thing happening, that protects other children from having ONLY Christian beliefs enforced on them.  It MUST work both ways if it is to work at all.

Be very certain:  Our children CAN read their bible in school and our children CAN pray in school. Nobody is taking away that right - not some unknown individual with the ACLU, nor any local leadership.  What can not happen, however, and what should not happen is the allowing of individuals in a position of leadership enforcing any singular religious beliefs as the "norm".  

So instead I offer you the following.  Let's teach our children to be strong independent thinkers who know that they can bow their head freely on their own in the school cafeteria and thank God for that meal.  Let's teach them to be strong and courageous enough to carry that Bible in their backpack to school and pull it out during independent reading.  Let's stop complaining that "God isn't allowed in schools" and teach our children about the religious freedom that they do indeed continue to have.

God bless us, everyone.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Infestation

Yesterday I received a phone call a little before 1:00 pm.  The Caller ID simply gave the name of my kids' school district, so of course I answered it.  It turned out to be the single individual that most parents hate getting a call from in the middle of their day.

The school nurse.  (Be real now, you cringe too when she calls, don't you?)

Usually her phone calls are polite, friendly, "Hi Mrs. D., I have my Lil' Dude down here in my office and he says he's not feeling well."  Or..."Hi Mrs. D., I have the princess down here in my office and she's hurt herself in gym..."  You know, typical stuff.

Yesterday, it was a call I had never received before...

"Hi Mrs. D.  Ummm, I really need you to come and get Lil' Dude..." (Wait, don't I get to hear why first? Isn't there an option? Oh boy, this can't be good.)

"He has lice."


I'm owning my "stuff" here people.  Yes, it was my kid who you received the note home about.  Yes, I am the parent of the child who may or may not have exposed your child to the creepy-crawlies.

I have NEVER had this experience before in my life.  Neither my brother nor myself had these lil' boogers attach themselves to us when we were younger, and I've had kids in school for 11 years - this is the first time I've gotten "the call".  I'll be honest (because I'm owning my "stuff"), I was MORTIFIED.

But, a day later, we've survived.  I've treated 3 heads, and I've meticulously combed through 3 heads.  That's right...THREE.  I figure it's kind of like when the flu runs rampant through the house.  When one gets it, they all get it - and I wasn't about to take any chances...So I treated 'em all.  And we're washing EVERYTHING.  And vacuuming EVERYTHING that can't be thrown in a washing machine.  And bagging up EVERYTHING that can't be thrown in a washing machine or vacuumed.

I still have 2 weeks ahead of me before I can un-bag pillows, stuffed animals, et al...I have more meticulous combing to do over the next week, just to make sure...I have an afternoon at the laundromat for comforters and quilts to be washed...and the MOUNTAIN RANGE of laundry in my basement is so overwhelming that I'm not sure I'm even ready to face it.

But I find myself thankful.

I'm thankful for a school nurse who does an amazing job putting us parents at ease when we have absolutely NO clue what we're doing.  I'm thankful for the friend who happened to be in the school at the same time I was there and caught a glimpse of me in the nurse's office, so he  popped his head in just to say "hello." (To which I promptly was trying to shoo him OUT of the office for fear of causing an infestation throughout all of Western New York just from my children alone.)  I'm thankful for the teacher who by God's grace alone, walked by the office and had a smile and a "thank you" for me because I had ordered some books for her classroom that she had asked for - It was a boost that I needed at that very minute.  I'm also incredibly thankful for the parent who may or may not have known who the "carrier" student in her daughter's class was, and yet she posted a supportive message on our school's Facebook page to "hang in there" and offered a listening ear for the parents.