It was inevitable – viral, even.

I was already feeling lousy when I walked into the post office extension to mail a book. The clerk was in a corner blowing her nose. Her nose (the aforementioned) was red and so were her cheeks. I thought, Oh, No! Then she reached for hand sanitizer before she checked me out, so I thought, Maybe It’ll Be Okay.

I headed to rehearsal with Amigo and helped out for a bit. Then I headed into my private room (the Sunday School room where I hang out with my laptop), and almost fell asleep. Yikes, I thought. This is Not Good.

Long story short, I took the next two days as sick days. Chuck had felt ill over the weekend. In fact, he woke up that morning to a coughing jag so rough it pulled a muscle in his back. I am not making this up. He missed work for two days, too.

Now Amigo is feeling under the weather. We’ll do our best to keep him hydrated and resting (the second one is easy) to preserve his voice for the contest coming up. Most of all, we’ll try not to spread this crud anywhere else – or to anyone else.

Cough. Cough. Ugh.

 

Teacher Appreciation Week

I was taking advantage of a teacher discount last night. Papa Murphy’s Take and Bake Pizza offered 50% off to teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day. Chipotle had offered a Buy one Get one (BOGO) the day before. Once a year, a handful of businesses let us know we’re valuable.

So back to the story. I was sitting down, feeling fatigued from this nasty virus that hit my family this week, and a teacher pal came in. After we greeted each other, I had a flashback. This incident happened when Teacher Pal and I (and three others in our building) were in the midst of our graduate program. I needed to send a fax to the university’s registrar, so I was in the school office asking the secretary for help. Principal overheard me telling Secretary to let me know what the cost would be. At this, she called out loudly, “There ain’t many perks in this job, Daisy! Send the damn fax!”

That, um, “conversation” took place more than ten years ago, and the memory surfaces all too often. When I’m pulling out my school ID to get 50% off on pizza and cheesy bread, when I picked apples from the tree in front of our office, when I planted milkweed from pods I salvaged when our office landscaping was dug up – I’m always hearing that comment in my mind. “There ain’t many perks in this job!” And even thought it’s true and it’s not a good thought, remembering that moment makes me smile.

Just another plastic bag of produce.

Sometimes I have to help the grocery store cashiers when I’m buying bunny food. Red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, or Romaine. Curly parsley or cilantro or maybe even flat leaf (a.k.a. Italian) parsley. On my way home yesterday, the cashier and the staffer bagging my purchase needed more help than usual.

I almost, not quite, but almost felt sorry for the cashier. She seemed new at the job. I suspect she has a hearing loss, too. Trust me; I recognize my own hearing-impaired behaviors when I see them in someone else. But where were we? Oh, I was checking out at the small grocery store on my way home from school.

The woman ahead of me in line was buying a six pack of bottled water. The bottled water ended up in a plastic bag. Huh? Put a sticker on it, people. I mean, really.

So I came in prepared; I handed over two cloth bags I always carry in my purse for times like this. Between the bunny food and hamburger buns, two bags should have been sufficient. But then, nothing seemed to go the way of “should” on this trip. First of all, my cloth bags didn’t make it to the end of the checkout right away; they got tangled in with the plastic produce bags. The first bags of lettuce ended up in a store plastic bag anyway.

While that was happening, I was distracted by a clueless clerk. “Is this kale?” “No, it’s parsley. Curly parsley.” She rang up kale. “Excuse me, that was parsley. Curly parsley, not kale.” Oops! She fixed it. And then – “Red leaf lettuce?” “No, it’s Romaine. That’s red leaf, coming up next.” She rang up red leaf. “Excuse me, that was Romaine. The red leaf lettuce is there.” I pointed. Ugh. She was lucky Chuck wasn’t in the checkout with me. He would have identified everything else on the conveyor for her. “And those are carrots” is his favorite line when faced with produce identification problems.

Finally, when I could look down toward the bags, I realized she’d packed my two bags with a few items, a store plastic bag full, and was reaching for another store plastic bag for two small packages of cookies. It was right after school, people. Don’t judge me. Sometimes a teacher just needs cookies. This was really ridiculous, though. I ended up bringing home way more single-use plastic than necessary.

Next time I’m stopping at the nearby grocery on my way home, I’ll avoid this particular pair of employees. If I have to deal with them again, I might react badly. And by badly, I mean I might loudly announce, “That’s curly parsley. That’s red leaf lettuce. That’s Romaine. And that’s celery, by the way.” Or I might glower at the  person bagging my groceries in twice as much plastic as needed. Growl.

If the produce is problematic, maybe the solution is to just buy cookies. Cookies might check out smoothly. Well, they “should”. However, we all know that “should” carries no guarantees.

Encore – Almost – for Autism Awareness

It’s April, again. Autism Awareness Month. What are the numbers now? A few years ago, autism occurrences were estimated at 1 in 88. That’s looking almost common, rather than unusual.

Well, folks, it’s time we start learning about each other, neurotypical or on the autism spectrum. Even under the old numbers of 1 in 166, the estimates indicated so many children and adults with autism that “normal” needed redefinition.

Awareness, people, is not enough. Awareness is a low form of knowledge, and knowledge itself sits down low at the base of the learning pyramid. Awareness means knowing that the student sitting next to your child in class might have autism. Knowledge and understanding come around when that child responds to gestures of friendship, perhaps awkwardly, yet making a step toward joining the social peer group in some way.

Awareness? Awareness means slapping a multi-colored puzzle-design ribbon magnet on the back of the family minivan. Understanding means that when the minivan next to yours at the red light is moving back and forth propelled by the rocking of the teenager in the front seat, you notice but don’t judge. You might offer an understanding smile to the driver if the opportunity comes up. By refraining from negative comments, a parent provides a role model for the rest of the minivan passengers. Parents can take it to the next level by explaining to the others in the car pool why it’s so important to be supportive of others, neurotypical or autistic or with no label at all.

These days, with a dangerously unqualified Secretary of Education and a potential Supreme Court justice who has ruled against students with disabilities multiple times, awareness can go to…well, anyway, awareness is nowhere near enough. During this year’s Autism Awareness month, make a vow to move beyond awareness into the category of understanding – or better.

The 40 Bag Project and Books

I’m making a serious effort to keep up with this de-cluttering project. I had a rough morning today, though. I decided to go through a box of books leftover from my classroom days. Classroom libraries are a source of joy and a major cost factor for most teachers. I managed to donate mine to a new teacher when I moved to teaching online, but there are still a few boxes in the house. I went through one this morning. It wasn’t easy.

I listed several on my Paperbackswap account. One has already been requested. I have great hopes for more to fly out the door by way of the Post Office. There were a few, however, that I couldn’t post.

Three didn’t have ISBN numbers. Yes, readers, I have books old enough that they don’t carry that magic number. Without it, I couldn’t post them on the swap site.

Then there was the domino effect. I attempted to stack the new entries in the bookshelf with the others, but there wasn’t enough room. My solution: sort through the contents of the shelf and make room. I managed to group several folders together so they didn’t take up quite as much space, and I also found ancient paperwork worthy of the shredder. I reorganized so that all garden-themed books (not going anywhere, thank you very much) have one section of the shelves and all textbook types are together in another.

At this point the table was covered with piles of books and my laptop, open to the “Post Books” tab on Paperback Swap. Craziness, eh? More so than you realize; we had a meeting scheduled in less than an hour and we’d need the table by then. I did manage to get the books back on a shelf, power down and stash the laptop, and wipe down the table before our meeting began.

And I haven’t even mentioned the books I didn’t post or set aside for an upcoming rummage sale: a Leo Lionni, a Tomie dePaola Strega Nona book, and a couple more that need to be stored with others of their kind in the attic.

Books. It’s not easy being green when it comes to literature. I might sort through the garden stack again – or maybe not. It’s a good season for selling those to Half Price Books; it’s also a good season to browse through a few of my favorites.

Books. It’s not easy being green when it comes to the written word. Heaven help me if I ever have to decide between books and shoes for shelf space.

The Exceptions, Thank Goodness.

I’ve been overheard at school saying, “It feels like I’m continually bringing my horses to water, but they just won’t drink.” I’m reaching out, making calls, sending emails, and I have to admit that most of my efforts are working. I’ve gotten through to parents and students by phone and by email. Several respond well when I invite them to a small group session, and those who attend and participate seem to get the material and improve their work accordingly.

And then there are the exceptions. Those who plagiarize. Those who make things up. Babble on aimlessly. Have no clue, but write a goofy answer.

Here’s an example. The student was supposed to compare and contrast the book she was reading on her own to one of the selections she’d read in class – any of the selections she’d read since January.

the story grabbed my attention because it was a good story and it had good words and good verbs and the story was a good story for kids.

Yeah, you guessed it. She earned 0 points for that answer. Another student tried, at least.

This book has garbed my attention

I’d chalk it up to a typo, but she wrote “garbed” again later in the answer.

Then there was the youngster who wrote an essay about playing soccer and ended it with “Trump: Making soccer great again.” Huh?!?

It’s plagiarism that gets me the most. We use a plagiarism checker to seek out and reveal work that may have been copied from Internet sources. Whether it’s the dreaded Wikipedia or a paper mill that writes and sells essays, Turn It In dot com will find it. In the past three days I’ve had three major incidents of plagiarism. At 53%, 87%, and 92% copied, I couldn’t let any of these go. Had they been borderline, with the only copied material names and places and direct quotes, I could have pointed out the results and reminded the students to give credit where credit was due. But with more than half of an assignment taken directly, word for word, I had to go through plagiarism protocol with each student. I called each one, spoke with the student and the parent learning coach, and then told the students they needed to redo the assignments. And then, to make it official, I recorded the offense in our google sheet for such offenses. Thank goodness, each was a first offense.

I cope with the stress of these incidents by taking breaks from grading. I’ll deal with a difficult situation, and then I’ll take a short walk away from my desk. I’ll pick up any printing, rinse my coffee cups, refill my water bottle, and then head back to my computer. I’ll take a deep breath and then attack the grade book again.

I’ll also remind myself that these kids are the exception, not the norm. Out of 45 essays and 45 Social Studies projects, if only three are copied, I ought to consider it a decent ratio. Maybe. The truth is, I’ll be satisfied when we reach 0% plagiarism. Zero.

As for the others? I wish they’d stick to making their own writing great, much less great again.

What Free Lunch Really Means

Subtitle: a story told through experiences

I once worked in a child care center that served several programs for low income families. Some of our kids had parents in prison. Some children were in foster care. A fair number were living in what we called “risky homes” – families where abuse and neglect happened, but not severely enough to remove them from the home.

These children were hungry. On Monday mornings, they dug into their breakfasts like they hadn’t eaten in days – and sometimes that was precisely the case. We planned our Monday morning meal accordingly – often oatmeal, because it was inexpensive, nutritious, and filling.

Fast forward several years to my first teaching job, in which I learned about free and reduced lunch. One indicator of the importance of this program showed on half days – those days that dismissed students before lunch and had meetings and training sessions in the afternoon. Attendance was weak, very weak, on days that the school did not serve lunch.

Fast forward again, same school, same neighborhood, same large number of low-income families. Our school meals program earned a grant to provide Grab and Go lunches on half days. These were essentially bag lunches with a sandwich and fruit and a small juice box or milk. Do you see where I’m going? Half day attendance picked up in a big, big way. Kids who straggled in late would greet me with “Can I still order lunch?”

I learned even more as I became aware of the McKinney-Vento Act, a program for homeless students. When a family becomes eligible for services through McKinney-Vento, one of the first things that happens is automatic free breakfast and lunch. The family doesn’t need to jump through the usual paperwork hoops required to qualify for free or reduced meals. When a family’s housing is insecure, schools make sure that the students in that family have at least two meals a day.

I’m not quoting numbers or dry statistics, my friends. I’m speaking from my own experiences. Now imagine: if this is my experience, in a relatively stable community like Happy Valley, the need that we label “food security” must be even more widespread in inner cities and poor rural areas.

And in Betsy DeVos’ experience? I’ll rephrase that. Betsy DeVos, the completely unqualified Secretary of Education, has no relevant experience. She has no idea how important free and reduced meals can be for families. She has no idea how feeding a child makes it possible for that child to grow, to feel safe, and ultimately, to learn.

Free meals matter. That’s the bottom line.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Off the Web, Off our Minds?

IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is a law that guarantees disabled students a Free Appropriate Public Education. We knew that law inside and out by the time Amigo turned 21 and graduated from both our local public high school and the state school for the blind. Our state department of public instruction (Wisconsin DPI) and the federal department of education both had extensive information on the law.

On Wednesday, a search for information reached this message.

I tried again later. First, I found a page that suggested “Information about the regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that was posted on this site has now been moved to a new location. To access this information and much more, please visit: http://idea.ed.gov.

On the idea dot ed dot gov, I found this message. The servers hosting our idea.ed.gov website are experiencing technical issues. We are working to resolve this issue, please check back later.

These two might be outdated, I thought. The first site references the year 2004, after all., the year of major updates to special education law. The links could be 12 years old.

I found an archived report from the 25th anniversary of IDEA.

I found a text file with a copy of the law as it was updated in 2004. Maybe I should bookmark that one.

I found an intact reference to FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The link on the Department of Education page has a red box announcing “Disclaimer!” and leads not to an official page, but this one. It’s sponsored by a group called the Center for Parent Information and Resources. I’d have to look more closely at the organization before trusting their information.

I then found a pdf document 159 pages long with the same information in Major Legalese as the earlier bookmark.

Every other search I made landed on the tech diff statement.

This follows censorship (yes, censorship) of other government informational pages such as information about human causes of climate change. Some of Wisconsin’s “official” web sites have also pulled information that doesn’t jive with our governor’s narrow mind or that of his sponsors.

What’s going on? I’m not sure I want to know.

I know this much, though. We, the people, in order to maintain a flawed but functioning republic, will continue our quest for information. We’ll continue seeking information, and we’ll continue providing information. We’ll also continue verifying and confirming statements. For example: just because Ms. Conway makes a statement on camera three times doesn’t make it true (RIP, Bowling Green massacre victims). 

In this case, out of sight (or out of website) doesn’t mean out of mind.

The Book Club – Dystopian or Apocalyptic?

It’s not an annotated bibliography, but a short plot summary for each should do.

Phoenix Rising, by Karen Hesse. Nuclear meltdown in a nearby power plant puts a whole community at risk of fallout contamination. Told from the perspective of a teen girl, this story will both touch and frighten readers. Masks, Geiger counters, and other protective gear become everyday items. When her family takes in a boy with radiation sickness, the girl starts to see the disaster with new eyes.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ll like the books even more. By telling the stories in first person, Collins helps readers understand Katniss’ point of view and how and why she becomes the reluctant role model for the revolution.

1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale would have to be on the high school or college list. The more recently published Cyberstorm could join those. If you’re really brave, try Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and don’t forget Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Are you with me so far? Required reading for facing a Trump presidency will show the frightening ways that life imitates art.

I asked some of my friends on social media for suggestions.

Animal Farm becomes more relevant as Russia leans more toward its Soviet Union past. We the Living by Ayn Rand; One Second After. by William R. Forstchen. Brave New World, of course. They listed A Clockwork Orange – shudder.

Why the book list, people might ask. Why? Well, folks, I suggest that reading a few of these, followed by some serious thought and observations, might open some eyes. More than that, analysis of many of these plots has the potential to open minds.

Friends, family, readers, can you suggest other titles?

Walk a Mile in my Shoes Empathy Book Club

Sanctuary cities. Executive orders. Airport detentions. A border wall. The news is full of negatives, stereotypes, anger, and fear. What’s missing? Empathy. Here’s a book list to encourage empathy for those who come to America from other cultures, whether voluntarily or as refugees. With the exception of the first title, all are suitable for young people.

  • A Step from Heaven by An Na
  • A Korean family moves to America, and the daughter has to find her inner strength to keep herself and her family whole. Despite her intelligence and ability to learn the language quickly, the girl encounters racism and sexism as she adjusts to her new home.
  • The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
  • The Hmong people were recruited to help American troops during the Vietnam war. After the war, when the new government began to persecute them, the United States provided a safe haven for Hmong refugees. Kao Kalia tells the stories of several generations as they flee Laos through camps in Thailand and eventually settle in the Midwest. The first person accounts make for a powerful read.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Esperanza is forced to leave Mexico after a tragedy takes her safety and her family’s wealth. She is unprepared for the challenges of living in a new country with no money and no home. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and 13 year old Esperanza finds her inner strength as she follows a path that leads to hope and a better life. This book won the Newbery Award in 1999.
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhja Lai
  • A new home in Alabama means safety from the Vietnam war, but this family misses their old home in Saigon as they adjust to the new culture, new landscape, and strange foods and customs. Discrimination is rampant for their Asian appearance and poor English skills. A Newbery honor book in 2012 – well worth the time for the amazing writing and heart felt story.
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
  • The story takes place in Brooklyn, NY, during 1947. The backdrop of Major League Baseball’s integration helps Shirley Temple Wong and her family adjust to being recent immigrants from China. Winner of many awards, this is a valuable read.
  • Grab Hands and Run  by Francis Temple
  • Felipe is twelve when his father is killed and he must grab hands with his sister and mother and flee El Salvador for safety in Canada. This book follows their long and difficult journey, and includes the dangers they face and their doubts about leaving their home.

Readers, what are some other books you recommend – for young adults or those who are grown-ups?