Tag Archives: education

Thankful for Education bloggers and shiny new pencils

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Dear Readers,

It’s been non-stop behind the scenes action here.

Our latest cause for celebration was this post by the great Diane Ravitch,
who reblogged Jersey Jazzman’s post. Then it was picked up by local
media here.

It’s  great that we got some national, state and more local exposure.  Eventually, more people will  understand what’s  happening and  our movement will grow. We’re doing everything we can and it feels good when our efforts pay off. Being noticed and written about by such incredible, highly esteemed forces working to save public education, is quite an honor. We understand that we’re part of a bigger struggle on a state and national level, as well.

I used to love getting new school supplies when I was a little girl. I still do. So, getting Ms supplies is fun for me, and I allow  myself a few things, too. A new notebook. A few pens. Colorful post it flags. Glitter. When  M checked out his  supplies for the upcoming school year,  M  said, “I can’t wait to start first grade. I love my school and want to stay there forever.”  He examined his new pencil case and I watched his eyes light up. I want that light to stay there for this coming school year.

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Every time M says he’s  excited  to go back to school, I’m thrilled he feels this way (and it’s more proof that his Kindergarten experience was  good). But, then my heart  sinks. I can’t let him know exactly what’s going on. We plan for him to go back to the same school. That’s all he needs to know for now. My hopes are that he and other children won’t feel too many drastic changes. But, I can’t help but be concerned. I support his excitement. I contain my fears and let them loose elsewhere, away from him.

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It’s a beautiful day. Even with the worry, the unknowns, and the fears.

The sun is shining and it’s time to play outside.

Elana

Day 30: I Did It!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 

——Nelson Mandela

Dear Readers,

….And we’ve arrived at my last post of the Wordcount Blogathon 2013! Yay! I did it!

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GRATITUDE: Thank you to Michelle Rafter and her team at the WordCount Blogathon 2013 for creating and organizing this awesome experience for bloggers!

Thank you to every single person who read The Way It Is for the past month (and before).

Thank you to every single one of you wonderful readers, fellow bloggers, friends, family, neighbors, other parent activists, artists, writers, and those on the other side of the planet. Thank you for reading and supporting this effort! You’ve got  no idea how incredible it’s been to receive your kind words of support. It has helped tremendously. I honestly  can’t believe I did it! You helped. Thank you!

Thanks to my  amazing husband and son who put up with me and my daily, “I have to post” mutterings,  excessive un folded laundry piles, and all the time I took away from them in order to  do this (plus the activism, meetings, etc.) in between and on top of life’s already packed daily routine. If not for Ringo, our excellent cat, some posts wouldn’t have happened. That’s the truth.

As I write this now, M keeps coming in to check on my phone timer because I promised him I’d play with him in 15 minutes and I keep saying,  “I’m almost done!”  and resetting the timer. Yikes. I need to go.

Leaving you with these few things:

Perhaps one of the greatest songs ever written. Both Sides, Now by the singular Joni Mitchell:

From one of my favorite childhood books, Chicken Soup With Rice by one of my favorite authors and illustrators, the genius, Maurice Sendak:

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My June calendar and laptop:

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I remember getting star stickers for accomplishing assignments at school when I was little. I put one sticker star on my calendar every time I finished a post for the WordCount Blogathon 2013 this June:

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I’ll be returning to a once a week posting schedule which I hope to maintain. I’ll continue to write about education and the goings on in our town, but not exclusively. I’m interested in too many things to pick just one, so it’ll be more of a mix like it was before this blogathon.

Good evening, good morning,
See you again soon.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 29: The intangibles and my time in the desert with students

Dear Readers,

This  post by Frank Nappi from The Badass Teachers Association  is fantastic! I  relate to it in a few ways.  A long time ago, I was an educator /counselor in the Israeli army education branch (Gadna) of the IDF in 1985-1987 for my two-year service. I worked in a poor and disadvantaged rural community in the Northern Negev. Many of the children I worked with had illiterate parents with minimal grade school or no education of their own. They were some of the most warm, welcoming, caring, and generous people I’ve ever met. And they were also suspicious of me, the army, and outsiders in general.  They held patriarchal, conservative,  religious, and superstitious views of society. Women’s roles were  defined as wives, mothers, caregivers, food makers, house cleaners–traditional, old world views that were entrenched in their lives and viewpoints which they had brought with them from the social norms of the day in various Middle Eastern countries.

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They had been placed in these remote settlements, in my opinion, wrongfully set aside and marginalized by the establishment of the country. They felt ignored and for good reason. They made the best of their situation as they had no choice. One family grew flowers. One had fields of radishes. Their homes were small but very clean. They made delicious food and hung laundry on clothes lines outside.

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The women  seemed to work harder than the men, and they showed it in their  bodies which appeared older than their ages, always serving others. They were tired, but never stopped. They always wanted the best for their children.

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When  I entered their homes, I was  treated with respect and the well-known, Middle Eastern hospitality; immediate offers to sit down, and an abundance of food and drink placed before me in an instant. It was considered an insult to refuse and I learned quickly to always accept tea, water, a delicious pastry–something. The children I worked with ranged from elementary school to high school and beyond. I taught in classrooms, in fields, in bomb shelters, around kitchen tables,  on the side of dirt roads, etc. It took a while to gain their trust. To do that,  I made house calls. One house at a time, meeting the parents and grandparents, explaining why I was there. Showing them that even though I was a woman and in the army (which they generally disapproved of), that I was a decent person, that I meant no harm, that I was there to help their children. I  listened to their stories.

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I realized early on that the children primarily needed attention and love along with help channeling aggression and frustration. They needed me to show up and wait for our group meetings even though no one came at first. I told them when I’d be there and I waited. Eventually, they started coming. Just a few, then more, then all the kids that could. We played theater games and role played situations to help them deal with all kinds of issues and problems. I did art projects with them and we played for hours. I had a general curriculum we were expected to follow, but within that, I had a lot of flexibility to do whatever worked with my group. I made sure to follow what was prescribed to us, but I made it as fun as I could, and I often added my own topics or ways of delivery.

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One of the older students was the leader and all the others followed her. She was smart,  funny,  cheeky, and gave me the hardest time. I started bringing a camera to my meetings and visits. I started photographing the children and showing them the pictures. Many suffered from  low self-esteem, so I decided that showing them how I perceived them, how I saw their surroundings (they thought it was ugly, but I saw beauty in it), would maybe help them start seeing themselves as worthy and beautiful human beings.

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It worked.  It also gave me chance to hand my camera to the students themselves,  and I showed them how to use the camera. A camera was not something most of them had, so it was a novelty. My father gave me one of his Nikon cameras to use. That was kind of big deal. I was always afraid it would get ruined by the sand and dust that was everywhere, but it survived just fine.

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The students had a blast posing for the camera and thought it was silly that I kept telling them, Just do your thing and I’ll grab the pictures. You don’t have to pose. But pose they did. Showing off bike tricks, running, “Look what we can do!” I praised them for their strengths and abilities and offered support and help where they lacked confidence or knowledge. I often helped them with homework, never doing it for them, but tutoring and helping them arrive at their own answers. The most difficult student came around to me. She loved the camera and taking pictures. Once she accepted me and started changing her attitude, the rest followed suit.

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Long after I finished my army service, I learned that she had become a photographer. It was a truly gratifying moment.  I wondered if  my work with her had anything to do with her choice to pursue photography. I’ll never know for sure, but it could be, and that’s enough to think about how much one person can influence another when you’re able to  teach in the best possible way. No tests or punishments. Just love,  attention,  communication, and learning to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. The information and academics followed from that and were weaved in between the games, playing, conversations about things that mattered to the students. All the topics got covered, but first the work was about building relationships. They had to trust me first. I had to meet them where they were.

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As was written in The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery:

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 17: Big BOE meeting this evening and online petition

Dear Readers,

I’m completely humbled and grateful for the ongoing support, new subscribers, comments and likes here. Thank you! These flowers are for all of you.

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I’m up to my eyeballs trying to get ready for the BOE meeting this evening, in which the Superintendent will be presenting her Strategic Plan.

Over the weekend, this local news story came out. Within the article is a link to a petition. It has over 260 signatures. While support is appreciated from anyone who wants to sign, the petition will have more weight if its signed primarily by local Montclair, NJ residents. So, please keep that in mind if you find yourselves wanting to sign, but don’t live here.

On the other hand, if you’re  a Montclair, NJ resident  who agrees and wishes to help, please forward the article  widely within your Montclair, NJ network of friends, family, neighbors, and community members.

I’ll let you know what happens tonight. I’ve gotta feeling its going to be very interesting.

Have a great day. The revolution has begun.

Elana

“Every creative act involves a leap into the void. The leap has to occur at the right moment and yet the time for the leap is never prescribed. In the midst of a leap, there are no guarantees. To leap can often cause acute embarrassment. Embarrassment is a partner in the creative act – a key collaborator. If your work does not sufficiently embarrass you, then very likely no one will be touched by it”

Anne Bogart, Seven Essays on Art and Theatre

Day 11: A sea change, the revolution, and speaking up for our children

Dear Readers,

I believe I’ve earned my first rabble rouser stripes.  At yesterday’s BOE meeting where we’re now fighting a district takeover by a Broad Academy Super and all the powers that are behind her, I and a few other parents spoke up. We didn’t have prepared remarks, as we wanted to see how the meeting would unfold. We had to wing it.

Sitting there listening to the awfulness such as: how its going to be and how difficult but it’s a sea change and we all have to work hard and pendulums will swing and freight trains are coming fast and  “this is an open dialogue” and “we want the community to be involved” and “its all for the children” and “rigor” and “achievement”—– blah, blah, blah. We sat there and listened and then decided we would speak up and whatever we said would have to be good enough.

We spoke passionately and from our hearts. I mentioned Albany, NY and Nikhil Goyal and told them, among many other things, that they need to go read his speech and that the Revolution was coming. I called for a BOE resolution against High Stakes testing. I questioned the new recent student (Tripod) surveys done and misuse of funds and waste of money that caused, instead of hiring more needed teachers or useful resources for our classrooms, which are short staffed and under funded. Plus a whole bunch more. I can hardly remember what I said.

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We were cut off, one by one. Our comments and questions were met with, “Motion to adjourn.” Boy, did they want out!

The meeting was taped. Local press was there. One didn’t mention parent dissent at all (ah, mainstream media). One gave a brief mention and I was quoted. I said the word REVOLUTION.

I was shaking and my heart was pounding as I spoke. I was all over the place, not polished, completely going with my gut. I told them this plan isn’t good enough for my child or this town. I stood up for my son and said he’d be entering 1st grade next year and that I won’t allow him to be tested or “assessed.”

After, and still shaking, I asked my fellow rabble-rouser parent friends, “Was that awful? OMG, what did I say? Did I sound crazy?” We had a good laugh at ourselves. My friend spoke eloquently and well and asked excellent questions that were not answered.

Bottom line, we created a stir and shook them up. They were all sporting deer in headlights looks and had a long huddle afterwards whispering and shaking heads. We had our own huddle.

I feel like everything I’ve ever done, ever learned, who I am, what I believe and know is coming to bear in this struggle. It’s not about me, but I need to use everything that I can that is within me for this struggle. One by one we’ll use our strengths to fight back.

I was crying the other day. I felt so discouraged and hopeless and wondering if we will ever make a difference. What we’re up against, all that. But justice is on our side and I won’t stop. There are many of us and we’re helping each other.

After the BOE meeting we learned that the students have organized and created their own movement (and we’d started talking with some of them only a week ago when we met elsewhere and so being able to help our students feels really good and is why we are doing this in the first place). They thanked us for leading the way and our page, which they used as a resource.

While I made my drawing,  M made this:

ourfamilybyM

We’re now cross promoting and helping each other (parents  group and students group). But this isn’t about thanks or who did what —it is an ever expanding circle of people who are fed up and are not going to take it anymore finally coming together for a common goal. We, the people, hear us roar.

I know this is going to be a long fight. So be it.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 8: The sun came out

Dear Readers,

This is going to be a real short one. It seems I’ve overdone it with my typing
and writing. It didn’t help that M begged me to play some video games with him. I usually don’t because, well, it hurts  my hands, and I’d rather not play video games (just not my thing) but anyway, I did. It was a car racing game, which was actually fun, with me constantly landing in the water, crashing into the trees, and other such game fails.  Of course I lost to M.  Anyway, it was only a few games. But, ouch!

Since I’ve had carpal tunnel and tendinitis in both my hands before, I gotta watch it when things get twingy. My orders to myself are to rest my hands as much as I can, but still attempt to post something every day. And no more video games for at least a week. Or ever.

Back to trying to save our schools from an education-nightmare:

After all that crying yesterday and feelings of overwhelm, there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep and the sun coming out today to help me reboot.

So here’s some Dilbert smack down. I love this:

dilbert

Nikhil Goyal gave an incredible speech at The Rally for the Future of Public Education in Albany, NY today. All  I can say, YES and he knocked it out of the park! His speech, and this event (attended by thousands) is inspiring to our parent group  in my town, and inspiring and uplifting to all who care about public education.  We’re  doing this. Yes, we are.

And now, back to resting my hands.

I hope you’re having a good weekend!

Love and peace,

Elana

PS. Go Bloggers for WordCount Blogathon 2013!

Day 7: It feels like the sky is falling

Dear Readers,

Welcome to more new subscribers! Thanks to everyone for the supportive emails,  notes, and messages. It helps so much.

It’s been raining all day. I’ve cried  a lot. Recovered. Ate brownies. Cried again. I’ve read too many stories of the destruction that is taking place all across America. Evil forces  have hijacked our schools. They’re  hurting our children,  punishing  teachers, dismantling schools. Communities are torn apart. There are too many sad stories.

I cried  when I read about a school where the students were protesting the cuts of   music teachers by standing in front of their Board of Ed–singing. There is such a great travesty of justice that it is almost impossible to state how awful this gets. What would we do without music? I can’t find the right words to express my  rage and despair.  Is music only for the rich now, too?

I remember in elementary school in a suburb of Boston, MA in the early -mid 1970s, in music class they taught us all to play the recorder, then flute. We had gym and art and  library. I learned to write Haikus in 2nd or 3rd grade. I don’t remember taking tests, just occasional pop quizes maybe, or year end tests. I  don’t remember much of the tests, because I don’t think they were a big deal. School was fun mostly, and I loved going. The classroom had natural light from the window,  plants on the windowsill, and it was a happy place to be. That same English teacher taught me a life lesson, along with the Haikus.

“You don’t  have to give a fake smile when your real smile is beautiful.”

A women on a thread I was involved with online wrote that her school district had just cut music, art, phys-ed, and library classes. I cried over that.   These are essentials. Music. Art. Library. PE. Where is justice?  Insanity and lunacy reigns. I try to imagine what my school experience would have been like without music, art, library, PE. I try to imagine what it will be like for all the children who won’t receive those basics because of budgets cuts, while admins get hired instead.

I just got  a text from my friend in Santa Monica, CA letting me know they’re OK. I hadn’t seen any news,  so I didn’t even know anything yet. She told me her son’s school was in lockdown and she’d just picked him up and that they were  fine.  But her son was in a lockdown situation at his elementary school for hours. He’s 7. I just don’t know what to do with that because it makes me sad,  angry, and afraid. So, I think I need to go get some huggling time with my boy, and welcome Friday night with food,  rest , and being together safely inside, while it rains outside. I’m   thankful for that.

We may be small and with small voices, but we’re  growing. One small voice at a time.  One step. One more person. One by one by one. “The smallest of all.”

Love and peace,

Elana

That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean?…
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the Smallest of All!”

—-From Horton Hears A Who By Dr.Suess

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