Tag Archives: wordcount blogathon 2013

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:

chickensoup

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:

rewardstickers

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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carnations

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.

radishes

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.

students

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.

theboys

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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 28: What we’re up against and a woman who stood up

Dear Readers,

I’m in awe of Wendy Davis. It may be slightly off topic to education, but not really if you consider it a civics lesson of the best kind. Her courage,  determination, and clarity are extraordinary and I’m compelled to mention her here. I draw inspiration from her bold act standing up for women’s rights.

upagainst
Up Against

This is what it feels like, what we’re up against in our fight against corporate ed reform policies and the new strategic plan in our town. It feels like David and Goliath. It feels like the little guy up against the BIG POWERS THAT BE. It feels like small voices not being heard. There are moments of victory and it feels like we’re making progress and are being heard and noticed. It feels like a mountain that can’t be climbed. It feels like a wall stands before us, impenetrable. It feels like maybe there’s a small crack in the wall.

It feels like parent power, teacher power, student power, must come together to withstand the waves crashing down on us; the impossible race to nowhere; the wall of obsfucation, greed and lies. The reformers’ endless resources, our lack thereof. It feels like the revolution needs a nap. It feels like we can’t stop. It feels like we have no choice. It feels insurmountable sometimes, impossible, it feels disturbing. It feels painful to watch and be in it and fight it. It makes me angry. It hurts we have to spend our energy this way.   It also feels energizing and uplifting to be taking action, real concrete action to change things. It is inspiring and hopeful to discuss education and what we want for our children with knowledgeable, kind, smart, funny, interesting, talented, unique parents, educators, and fellow residents. It’s a relief to have people I can speak with openly about all this.

I won’t ever stop fighting for my son. If we multiply that I WONT GIVE UP ATTITUDE by more parents, that will be the real sea change, the mountain to climb together, the wall to break through —-standing up  together.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 27: The day after and swimming in the pool with friends

Dear Readers,

Last night M cried before going to sleep. “Mommy, will I ever see my class friends again?”

I said, “Yes, you’ll see them. Most of them will be going to your school again in the fall. And friends are friends. We’ll see some of them in the summer. Plus, you have camp coming up, and you’ll make some new friends there.”

M wasn’t convinced. “But, Mommy, I want to know which of my friends will be at my camp. I want my old friends.”

We have these conversations every time there’s  a beginning or an ending. Before school starts, before it ends, before camp, and then by the time camp is over, he’s made new friends and doesn’t want to leave them.

I told him we were going to see one of his class friends the next day. He fell asleep. Finally.

I fell asleep right after him. I woke up in the middle of the night, disoriented. I didn’t know what day it was. After going back to bed and sleeping in (until around 8am!) I felt better. This graduating K business is exhausting. Endings usually are followed by a need to rest. But so are beginnings–all that excitement,  fear, and loss mixed in with  the unknown ahead. Until you know, you don’t know.

We took our cat to the vet today for her annual checkup. I need to call tomorrow morning to get the results of some tests the vet said she needed to run. Ringo has lost some weight. She’s 14 years old. Senior kitty. I spent today trying to not to think about it. I’ll know more when I call in the morning. But of course there’s dread. What ifs. I push it all out of my mind. The same way I reassure M that yes, he’ll  most likely see his friends again, I tell myself, everything will be OK. I can’t even allow the thoughts in. What’s the point in fretting too much when you don’t know and you can’t know until you know and until then, you just don’t know? Being comfortable with unknowns is difficult, and  one thing that works for me (sometimes) is to get very involved in the present moment. Literally, only be here now. It isn’t something I can always sustain, but when I do that, it helps.

It’s the same with friendships, beginnings, endings, transitions, comings and goings, all life’s separations. We need to tell ourselves that we’ll see our friends again. That our cat will be OK. Until we know differently, we have the hopes and wishes and that moves us forward. It’s as if we must choose to be happy about what is NOW, what is good right now, until we’re confronted with news that might shatter that. We’re  here now.

M was thrilled to invite his friend over to play in our little pool this afternoon. It was proof to him  that he’ll  still see his friends. A person needs concrete proof sometimes. Or maybe often, that what’s  real is real. Saying it is one thing, but a six year old wants to see it in action. Until then, it’s just words. When will we get there? And then we get there. When will my friend be here? And then they arrive. And they are here. Now, it is real. And the fun begins.

The afternoon passed with M and his friend playing and splashing and laughing. The other parent and I chatted in the shade and kept an eye on the kids. It was easy. Not all play dates are, but this one was. Every time we make a connection with someone, it feels good. Since it’s been almost three years since we moved here, we’re still new in town, but every new friendship makes this feel more like home, and makes the thought of what is happening here feel harder. Because know we know more people and care about more people. Nothing is hypothetical anymore. It is here. It is real. The friendships are real and what threatens us is also real.

And it all comes down to that. People. Friends. Our cat. Having fun and being silly whenever possible. So, I hope, I hope that the work I’m doing with our parent group here in town will have an effect and that we’ll  change things for the better.

I know that kids learn when they can  move around and DO things. So, I’m not worried about “summer learning loss.” Children need to play. They learn best through play. They need some unstructured time where not too much is planned and they can just BE.   I’m certain M will learn a lot this summer.  But mostly, I hope he has fun. I worry about the future but I’m also determined for us to have a happy summer. To not go into future worry about what might happen, but instead, to keep our eyes on the prize, to take every step we can to create change, and to allow ourselves to enjoy our lives as best we can while we fight hard for  our schools.

I’m glad M told me he was sad about missing his class, about it ending. And at the same time, he’s really looking forward to the next step. I don’t know if there’s a way to not feel this ambivalence. I’m not sure life is any clearer when you push one feeling aside for another. It’s  just one step, one splash, one friend at a time. And it’s quite possible to be completely thrilled one has finished something big,  and  at the same time, deeply sad that the something big is over, and you have indeed finished it and are moving on. Graduating.

Nemo said, “Keep swimming.” That’s what we’re gonna do. Keep swimming.

Thank you again and again to all of you for sticking with me through this crazy month, for posting,  liking, and encouraging me, and to the recent newest subscribers–welcome. Just a few more days of the WordCount Blogathon 2013, which will end on June 30.

Good night and good morning,

Elana

Day 26: Graduating from Kindergarten, Voting Rights, Love & Equality

Dear Readers,

M finished Kindergarten today.

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Our K class parent had  the lovely idea for each child to bring in a flower to add to a bouquet for their teacher this morning, the last day of school. M picked these for her.

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Also today, DOMA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Finally. A great victory for Equality in America. These two images were circulating today. I don’t know who made them, but they say so much, I had to share.

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lovewins

On the other hand, Voter’s Rights were set back. I’m still reading about it and trying to digest what has happened. Read more it about here and  here.

M gave me this note  written on a tissue (not sure what’s up with him writing on paper towel and tissues lately, but there you have it. Just  another mystery.

mmomnote

This is really worth a watch. Karen Lewis, Chicago Teacher’s Union, president, speaks the truth.

http://chicagoist.com/2013/06/19/ctu_president_lewis_blames_elites_f.php

Congratulations, M! You did it! Hooray! So proud.

Kgrad

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 25: The Day Before the Last Day of School

Dear Readers,

Winding down the school year here. Last night M told me he wants to stay in his class forever. Today he said, “Yay, no more Kindergarten!”

At the start of the year, I remember filling out a form for school.  What are your expectations for Kindergarten? What do you want  your child to learn?  Or something like that. I’d written a few things, one of them was for M to make new friends. He certainly did that— making many new friends and continuing to learn how to  get along with more people, solve conflicts, tolerate frustrations, share attention, stand up for himself, apologize, work things out, etc.

I heard that in first grade there’s only one recess per day. That makes me sad. They’ll only go outside only once a day? It doesn’t seem like enough. I don’t know if this is a new policy or an old one. I guess we’ll find out about that in the fall. I also heard that his Kindergarten classes  got two breaks a day because of the efforts of teachers who fought hard for that.  I wonder   who will be fighting for what come September. So much is going on here. It’s going to be an interesting summer. I do plan on some down time,  M will be going to camp, and I’ve got a few projects I’m working on. I have a stack of books I want to read. If I get to one or two I’ll be happy.

Today I received a list of supplies M will need the first day of school (#2 pencils, erasers, glue sticks, etc.) He’s pretty excited about going back to his school for first grade. This time, he’ll know the bus routine,   friends and teachers,  the school. All of those were big unknowns ten months ago, now  its old hat.

Tomorrow is the last day of school. We’re going to celebrate his achievement of graduating from Kindergarten with family time. I asked M to make a list of what he wanted to do for the few days we’re off together. I told him, we might not be able to do everything, but we’ll try to do as much of it as we can. He returned with a written note (yellow highlighter on a paper towel so it was almost impossible to read), that listed games he likes to play at home. Every single one was an imagination playing game he has in rotation. All that he made up. All that call for the following: improvisation, laughing, make-believe, magic, suspension of reality, reality, stuffed animals, cars, dinosaurs, trucks, trains, underwater creatures, water, dandelions, sticks, rocks, mud, blankets, pillows, couch cushions, our shoes, our clothes, hats, bags, notebooks, paper, pens….

I can’t believe M’s done with Kindergarten. It goes by in a flash.

Image
copyright Elana Halberstadt June 2013, 11″x14″ acrylic on canvas

I made this painting for M’s teacher, assistant, and student teacher (as part of our class gift from parents and caregivers).

Thanks, everyone. And a warm welcome to the newest subscribers!

Good night and good morning.

Elana

Day 24: WordCount Blogathon Haiku Day–We Stand Strong.

 

Berkeley state of mind

Dear Readers,

It’s Haiku theme day on the WordCount Blogathon 2013.

I’m loving writing a short piece!

This is my message to the people who are trying to steal my son’s
education. And it is also for everyone who is attempting to steal from all our children in public schools across America; And for all those who abuse and hurt children and students, parents, and teachers  with high stakes testing, over testing, standardized testing, and terrible reformer-deformer education practices devised by billionaires who are greedy and corrupt and who are enriching themselves and destroying people’s lives on the backs of our most neediest and vulnerable citizens. These people should be arrested for crimes against education,  children, and democracy. But in the meantime, here’s my Haiku.

You came for children.

We won’t let you take them down.

We stand strong in front.

Love and peace,

Elana