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Web

September 5, 2016 10 comments
Web

An early morn’ encounter with a web unleashes a host of provocative thoughts.

spider

The Spider and the Fly

 

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to show when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.”

Photo Credit: Web ©2016 KarenSzczukaTeich&Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

We The Jury ~ And Then There Were Six Part III

July 19, 2015 4 comments

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Opening Statements on Tuesday took the entire day. The Plaintiffs’ attorney spoke first on behalf of his clients, a man and his wife. The couple had five children and had been married for nearly 40-years. Basically, the attorney outlined their case, telling us a tragic story about how a seemingly healthy, happy, successful man in his late 50s went to the hospital on a cold winter’s day in January six years ago with chest pain. The man was given an electrocardiogram (EKG) an essential, initial evaluation of a patient suspected to have heart problems. It’s a non-invasive procedure whereby 12 small, sticky electrodes are placed on various parts of your chest. The electrodes monitor the electrical activity of your heart and transfer the information to an EKG machine which prints the heart’s activity out in wavy lines on special graph paper. After having the EKG, it was determined that the man should be transferred to a local hospital that had a Catheritization-Laboratory (Cath-Lab). This is a special room that has diagnostic equipment that allows a doctor to view and treat arteries of the heart.

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In the Cath-Lab, a stent (small expandable metal tube) was placed in the man’s left anterior descending artery otherwise known as the widow maker. A stent holds the artery open while allowing blood to flow freely. Unfortunately, the stenting process resulted in a jailed artery. This happens when plaque is inadvertently moved by the stent or metal from the newly placed stent blocks a side artery or branch during the procedure. The heart surgeon attempted to re-open the side branch unsuccessfully and to avoid further risk to the patient, made the decision to close off or jail the side artery. The Plaintiff was sent to the Cardio-Thoracic Step Down Unit (a recovery floor that is one step below an intensive care unit and one step above a general surgery unit). Here, the attorney alleged, due to negligent care, the man suffered a third heart attack, resulting in subsequent operations and procedures including having to wear a heart vest (much like a wearable defibrillator), having a Dor procedure, having a battery operated left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted under his skin and ultimately a heart transplant followed by several open heart surgeries because due to infection. Needless to say the man’s ability to work and function as a husband and father was changed for the rest of his life.

So began the trial and a journey among strangers that would ask us to settle what we would deem a perfect storm. What happens when a group of people spend the majority of their waking hours together, often confined to a room for long periods of time, every day for what would turn out to be several weeks in a row, each being exposed to the same experience yet undoubtedly processing it differently? You get to know people in a way that you don’t get to know even your co-workers whom you might see daily when you are in a situation like this. All of the superficial, ritual fluff that comes with the process of getting to know someone is immediately shed exposing the core of them, their struggles and strengths, their values and beliefs rather quickly. There’s no time or space for anything less.

Life is a series of stories and each of us has our own to tell.

Juror #1, Gloria
First on the daily sign in sheet, first on line to enter the courtroom, Gloria sat in the first row, first seat closest to the witness stand in the jury box. A retired caretaker in a rehabilitation center, she’s a woman in her 60s, of medium height with short, silvery hair parted to the side and curled around the edges. She’s a smoker with a slightly weathered exterior. Gloria was a solid woman; very smart and of humble beginnings who had mothered four children who were now grown. She had a terrible condition that often caused her to cough uncontrollably at random times during court, causing the Judge to sometimes pause the proceedings and offer her water, to which she said, “only made it worse.” After about two weeks into the trial, a witness, who was a nurse, tried to offer her assistance from the witness stand. The judge gently admonished the witness. No communication of any kind is allowed with the jury, at any time. Gloria was relieved as a juror shortly after that. I was never sure if it was because of her condition, the interaction with the witness or both but she told us she was glad to leave, saying she didn’t think she would have been able to make a decision in the end. I was sad to see her go.

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Photo Credit: Juror #2, John, who took this picture while flying his helicopter over the courthouse one weekend during the trial.

Juror #2, John
John is 60. Second in line, second seat in the jury box. A white-haired retired detective who also flew helicopters for the police department and coast guard in earlier days. Nowadays, he flies for a private company that services very wealthy people and celebrities including Bon Jovi, Jerry Seinfeld and President Clinton. After the first day or two, John suggested we go around the jury room and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves. It was the starting point of getting to know one another in a meaningful way. His presence had a stabilizing effect on the dynamic of our group. John’s story like so many others includes a tragic, heartbreaking event. We learned that he lost his 17-year old son in a fatal car crash. Ironically, as I learned about John’s son, my own 16-year old son was taking his road test for his driver’s license. I couldn’t bear to think about John’s loss and I truly marveled at his pleasant demeanor and even-temperament. John came to the jury room with a new joke every day.

A cat and mouse went to heaven. When up there, the mouse met up with St. Peter who asked the cat what he thought of heaven. “I like it lot,” he said. “Although, it’s just very big and hard to get around sometimes. If I had a pair of roller skates, that would helpful.” St. Peter quickly granted his request, and off the mouse went. A few days later St. Peter bumped into the cat. “How are you finding heaven?” he asked the cat. “Well, at first I thought it was, eh, okay,” the cat said, “but when I realized you had a Meals on Wheels program, I thought it was great!”

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Juror #3, Dolores
I can’t explain why but from day 1, I felt very connected and drawn to Dolores. She is a very attractive African American woman in her late 70s. Her facial features are pointed, small and clearly defined. She wore just enough rouge to highlight her petite cheekbones and smooth, glowing brown skin. A tall, thin woman, her hair is the color of a cultured pearl, arranged in soft, short, dangling cornrow braids that cover her whole head although don’t fall too far below her ears. It was so beautiful. I wanted to ask her if she did her hair herself but Delores is a private, proud person and I didn’t want to be intrusive. She kept many of her opinions to herself except when it came to voicing her opinions on politics. She has strong views, as most of us do. The mother of three children, two boys and a girl, one of her sons was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was in his twenties. Dolores’ husband suffered a stroke and she was his caretaker for 28 years before he passed. She worked for Planned Parenthood for over 30 years and was now retired. There is a quiet, self –assured-ness about Dolores that exudes wisdom. I saw a rock-solid, inner strength in her and an inner peace that I aspire to have one day.

I was Juror #4
Fourth in line, fourth seat in the first row of the jury box. Although I was not seated in the middle of the jury box, I was seated in the middle of “the well”, the space between the Judge’s bench and the attorneys’ tables. The podium used by the Defense attorneys stood right in front of me. The court reporter sat slightly to my right in front of the Judge’s bench. I could read on her laptop screen what she typed on her stenotype machine. I had a perfect view of the courtroom. I felt honored to be a part of this process and recognized that so many other things, so much bigger than what I could see around me at the time, were happening.

Juror#5, Christina
Christina was the fifth and last person seated in the first row of the jury box. She is twenty-one and goes to college in Tennessee. She studies Intercultural Studies and Business for Non-Profits. Home for the summer, she’s the oldest of three siblings and the youngest among the jurors. She was also, the most quiet. Although when she spoke, she was articulate and thoughtful with her words. It was clear she had been paying attention to every word that was said around her. Like myself, she brought a book every day. Occasionally we would read during down time. She started and finished The Hobbit during our time in the jury room. I started and finished Legend, the first in a series of three books written by Marie Lu and recommended by my daughter. Christina radiates the promise of youth. Her presence was like a breath of fresh air. She’s genuine, sweet and honest and I have a feeling she will do great things in life.

Jurors #1 through #5 sat in the first of two rows. Jurors #6 through #10 sat in a raised row behind the first row.

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Juror #6, Debbie
Debbie was the sixth person in line and the first person to sit in the second row of the jury box behind Gloria. She does not like to be called Deborah and I felt bad, having made the mistake a few times before I was able to catch myself. In grammar school, catholic school, the nuns called her De-bor-ah and she hated that. Debbie wore a string of pearls with each outfit, everyday. She emits professionalism. Until of course she laughs, which she does a lot, then, she’s just a regular gal like the rest of us. An IBM Executive, IT Project Manager, Debbie oversees 29 people in her division. None of who live in the United States. In fact, she’d just received her new crew the Friday we were called to jury duty. She tried to make a case when she was chosen as a juror to be excused but the lawyers would not want to let her go. Debbie was usually the first to arrive every morning. She, like the rest of us often felt frustrated by the amount of idle time we had to pass. She had lots of ideas about efficiency. It’s no wonder she has the job she does, we half expected her to send the Judge a report at the end of the trial on what she should or could do to improve juror conditions and move a case along faster. Debbie is going to win the lottery. She told us so. In fact, she told us every day, three times a day. It’s part of her mantra to make it happen and one day, it will happen. Divorced with two grown children, it was Debbie that I felt I had the most in common with. I could relate to where some of her struggles have brought her too. She’s a competent, capable woman, deeply influenced by strong moral beliefs and I have much respect for her. Debbie has a big, beautiful heart and I’m honored to call her my friend.

As a means of helping us pass time in the jury room, Debbie brought in Table Topics, a game that uses a series of cards to ask engaging questions that inspire conversation. She would pick a card, read the question and we would go around the room and answer or not answer it, if we didn’t want to.

Some of the questions and answers that linger in my memory:

Who has inspired or acted as a mentor to you?
Juror #3 Dolores: Maya Angelou and Mahatma Gandhi.

What is your astrological sign?
Juror #2, John: Aquarius
Juror #5, Christina: Capricorn
Juror #6, Debbie: Virgo
Juror #9, Joe: Taurus

What is a goal you have?
Juror #5, Christina: to write a book.

What is the most important quality you look for in a friend?
The majority of us had the same answer, integrity and honesty.

Describe a life experience that has helped make you a stronger person.
This is the question that exposed of core of many of us.

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Juror #7, Michelle
Michelle was seventh in line and sat in the second seat in the second row of the jury box. From day one, we each claimed a seat around the conference table in the jury room and kept it, except for Michelle. Michelle chose not to sit at the table. Usually she sat closest to the door in one of the chairs that lined the wall but she never sat at the table with us during the trial. She also stood a lot in the room during breaks. Many of us did. After sitting for hours at a time in the courtroom, standing was a welcome relief. A single woman in her mid-forties, Michelle is tall and athletic, caring and sensitive. She teaches Social Studies and English to 6th graders in a nearby public school. During the summer months she works in a pro shop at a golf course. It’s evident that she loves her jobs and her Irish heritage. When she speaks about her mom who (just like my mom) is an immigrant from Ireland, she can’t help but talk in a perfect Irish brogue. It’s endearing, as is Michelle.

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Michelle has dual citizenship in the US and Ireland. She’s guided by her deeply rooted, Irish-Catholic beliefs and is a Pioneer, an Irish person who made a promise at her confirmation not to take a drink. Ever. At 44, she has never had alcohol. I never knew what a Pioneer was until Michelle told me. After the trial, when I asked my mom about it she said, “Oh yeah, your grandmother was a Pioneer as well”. This was news to me. My mom was actually in possession of my grandmother’s Pioneer Pin and gave it to me after I asked her about it. When I was seven I went to Ireland with my mom and younger brother. That was the only time I’d ever met my grandmother. She gave me a Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish ring representing love, loyalty and friendship. The ring was eventually stolen, so to have her Pioneer Pin now was extremely sentimental and meaningful to me, and I have Michelle to thank for that.

Juror #8, Cameron
Cameron was the eighth person in line. She sat behind me in the jury box. I liked Cameron a lot. She’s a soft-spoken, level headed, kind, woman; a college counselor at a local private high school. Cameron is a thinker. A week into the trial, she received word that her father-in-law who was in Hospice care was near the end and requested to be excused. Her request was granted.

Within the first two weeks our Jury of 10 had become a Jury of 8. Now only two of us would be alternates.

Juror #9, Joe
Joe is the fourth person to sit in the second row. He’s a middle-aged, bald man in his early 50s who works at Home Depot. Every day he wore either a navy blue Ralph Lauren baseball cap with yellow stitching or a black Tommy Hilfiger cap. You’re not allowed to wear a cap in the courtroom so he’d leave his in the jury room. He also had an earring hole in his left ear but never wore an earring. Joe’s a friendly guy. He’s not married and has no kids but lives with his partner. He likes to cook. He usually came in with a cup of coffee in the morning and like many of us, brought one back after the lunch hour. Joe played solitaire with Julie (Juror #10) every day. On the last day of the trial when Closing Statements were made, he finally won. Joe’s a deep thinker. You could tell he gave careful consideration to his answers when we played Table Topics. He took being a juror seriously. We all did. In fact, we all talked about the responsibility that came with being a juror and how important that was.

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Juror #10, Julie
Julie is a woman also in her 50s. Her brownish hair has an eggplant colored hue to it. She works at JC Penney and has two grown children who live in another state that she doesn’t get to see much. She’s also a smoker. I would see her and Juror #1, Gloria (before she left) sitting outside having a smoke at lunch when I’d go across the street to get a cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s been close to 14 years since I’ve had a cigarette and sometimes I enjoy a second hand waft. Sometimes during a break, Julie would head downstairs for a quick smoke. Because the door was locked from the outside, anyone entering the jury room other than the court officer who had a key, would have to knock. Michelle who was usually closest to the door would answer but not before jokingly asking for the “password” which was Helicopter and a nod to John’s profession.
adimeJulie has common sense and some street smarts behind her. There is something quite compelling about her. She described a difficult childhood to us and I wondered how her life may have differed if she had more opportunity growing up. Julie works at JC Penney and brought us all coupons one day. She also shared an interesting story with us about James Cash Penney, the founder of JC Penney, who hated Franklin D Roosevelt and his policies so much that he refused to carry dimes in the cash registers in the stores because they are imprinted with Roosevelt’s picture. The only dimes in the cash register at a JC Penney (to this day) are those circulated by customers. The stores never order them from the bank.

These were the ten of us, who became eight within the first two weeks. Two of us were alternates yet we had no idea who. As the days and weeks began to pass this would loom above each us. Who would ultimately stay and deliberate? Who would not? How and when would we know? While the process of selection fascinated me, who we were individually was equally if not more intriguing.

It didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing arbitrary about who had been chosen for this specific case. As different as we learned we were, together we were a balance and there was (thankfully) a very strong, common trait that we all shared, one that presented itself loudly and clearly:

Each of us had a deep desire to do the right thing.

Note: If you would like to read And Then There Were Six Part I, you can find it here.

Part II, The Jury Assembled can be read here.

The Man With the Handlebar Mustache!

October 19, 2014 16 comments
Uncle Jacob 1988

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Fall bursts with bright colors, Oktoberfests and beer, memories from my childhood and the man with the handlebar mustache.

Memories are a curious thing. They come in the form of a person’s personal perspective. Each situation, event or conversation, means something different to all those involved, and also to those not involved. We give different meanings, according to our belief systems, and how we are affected by the event. In Other words, we don’t see things as they are necessarily; we see things as we are. (http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/perspectives.htm)

The following is my perception and memories of a man who I am truly grateful to have had in my life.

The sun had set and I remember watching the glow of the red sky slowly fade to black. It had been a long day, a great day of blueberry picking but it was late now and clearly we were lost. It felt like hours since we’d left my parents. Maybe it was. Somehow, we missed where they turned. The back roads of the Catskill Mountains are endless, nameless and windy. There were no maps or street lights to guide you on these less traveled roads. I can’t recall everyone who was in that pale blue Volkswagen bus with me that evening, I think my brother was, maybe my sister too but I remember the mood perfectly: content and tired, despite being lost. I think I was seven or eight-years old. Another thing I remember for sure; I wasn’t scared. I felt safe. It was another adventure. Finally, we came upon a tavern and stopped for directions. We followed him inside the small watering hole and waited patiently, spinning ourselves on bar stools as he drank from a frosty mug, no doubt making new friends while he inquired about our whereabouts and how to get back to the Parkway.

This remains one of my earliest memories of the man with the handlebar mustache.

He wasn’t a “blood” relative but we were close like family and called him Uncle anyway. Uncle Jacob (pronounced Yahck-up) lived with his family, his wife and three sons in an affluent part of Westchester, NY, a short walk from Rye Beach and Playland Amusement Park where their famous boardwalk was featured at the end of the movie “Big”, when the “Zoltar the Magnificent” fortune teller machine returned the adult Tom Hanks to his original childhood age/state of being. As a kid I roamed that boardwalk with my siblings a million times over. My family spent lots of weekend time at the house in Rye. Uncle Jacob and my Dad were very good friends. Shortly after my Dad immigrated to this country from Germany, Uncle Jacob gave him a job as a painter’s apprentice and a place to live. That was over 50-years ago. Back then, an immigrant coming to the United Sates had to have a job and a place to live so as not to be a burden on society.

VW Bus

Trip to Niagara Falls most likely 1963 with the two families. This is actually my Dad’s VW Bus but Uncle Jacob had a very similar one. My Dad is in the driver’s seat. Tante Theresa behind him. Richard (the middle of the three sons) is in the passenger seat. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Uncle Jacob’s wife, Tante Theresa, was an amazing cook and made the best Sunday dinners and chocolate chip cookies you ever had. For real. The three boys were older than me and my siblings. I can’t say I had a relationship with any one of them in particular but I do believe that a life-long bond that exists among family members was created between us during those years and beyond. They knew my Dad before he got married, before we were born. They were patient with us when we came over. I remember watching them and my Dad play with this huge train or racing car track that Uncle Jacob built for them. It was on a wooden board as big as a bed, in fact it retracted onto the wall just like a Murphy Bed. It was a fun, comfortable place to be in, like home and even though the neighborhood was a quiet and reserved one, Uncle Jacob’s house was anything but quiet and reserved.

Looking back I realize Uncle Jacob was the most progressive man I’ve ever known.

Still.

To. This. Day.

Uncle Jacob

L to R: Me, Uncle Jacob & My Sister ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Everything I experienced at that house was unique and unusual although it all seemed quite normal at the time. As a child, I loved Uncle Jacob but it’s only now as an adult that I truly appreciate the happy, wonderful, exciting things he introduced and exposed me to.

I think of him with the same kind of respect I have for Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson and realize how amazingly lucky I was to have had this man’s influences infiltrate my childhood. My schooling occurred behind the stone cold walls of a small, strict catholic school but much of my learning occurred under the indirect tutelage of the man with the handlebar mustache. He was a natural teacher demonstrating a hands-on approach to living and learning. He was a modern day Dr. Doolittle only instead of having an English accent; his was German occasionally slurred by a happy consumption of wine or beer. Like the Pied Piper too, children and adults were drawn to him and his charismatic ways.

Let me explain.

In addition to being a house painter by trade, he was a musician and a singer. Actually, he was a party on two feet, a walking Oktoberfest, all-year-round. He played the accordion. Always and everywhere.

He was a butcher. One time he and my dad bought a pig and among other things, made sausage in his basement, letting me hold the clear, thin casing while he cranked out the ground up sausage meat into it. Another time they bought a calf. We ate veal every day in every way for about a year. I don’t eat veal as an adult.

And yet another time when my younger brother wandered into the basement and as he puts it,

One minute there was a chicken running around and the next minute Uncle Jacob laid it on the butcher block and chopped it’s head off.

Dinner.

He was a farmer, growing tomatoes and other vegetables, and berries along the perimeter of the square shaped fence that surrounded the patch of grass that was his back yard.

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Me & my baby who I named Rabbit in Rye. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Peter Rabbit

My younger brother, Peter w/ a rabbit in Rye. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

He raised rabbits. I remembering playing house with them in their living room, dressing them up and rocking them in my arms like I would a baby doll.

He was a Bee Keeper and for some time, kept his bees in boxes on the roof of his quiet little house in the affluent city of Rye. One summer, when I was 10 or 11, he gave me and my friend a job building bee hive frames. He showed us how to hammer and wire them. He treated us like we were capable. At the end of the day he paid us with jars of honey. Soon after, a neighbor complained and called the police. Uncle Jacob called the newspaper and had me come back and go up on the roof where the bees were to show them how safe it was. Eventually, they made him move the bees.

We had freedom to explore in and out and around his house. There was a small concrete swimming pool that was enclosed by a gate on the property that we swam in often, amongst the huge green lily pads and giant orange gold fish that he kept in it.

He made my brother his first fishing pole out of a stick and some twine and helped him catch his first fish with it.

He was a swimmer and swam in the Long Island Sound, probably every night. He would walk to a small alcove with his flippers in hand and his best friend, Horste, by his side. Horste was his dog, I think he was a coonhound. Sometimes we would go and watch him and Horste swim together.

Uncle Jacob and my Dad would lay in the living room on a Sunday afternoon reading the German newspaper or watching soccer, my Dad on the couch and Uncle Jacob on the floor. Uncle Jacob would call us over one by one and tell us to walk on his back to massage his weary muscles.

As I grew older and became more preoccupied with my own life and living, going to college and working, my personal contact lessened and at some point Uncle Jacob left his house in Rye to go live where his heart was, in the back woods of the Catskill Mountains. I never got to see his place there but my mom used to refer to it as Jacob’s Chutzpah! I imagined it to be a place where animals and people could dwell in an uncomplicated way. Tante Theresa remained for the most part in the house in Rye and I was told that when Uncle Jacob would come down from the mountains to visit his grandchildren he’d bring a baby chick or a bunny rabbit in his coat pocket on the train for them to see and hold and play with.

Jacob

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Needless to say, not everyone he came in contact with appreciated his carefree nature and unfortunately, or fortunately, a neighbor who didn’t enjoy his unconventional ways of living (or German music maybe?) had him arrested on a DUI one night after playing at a local party. He was put in a small-town, back woods jail for a few months, to teach him a lesson. Needless to say, sitting idle in a cell didn’t sit well with Uncle Jacob. He asked for a can of paint and a paint brush. By the time his sentence was served, his cell and the whole jailhouse for that matter was left with a fresh coat of paint on its walls, compliments of the man with the handlebar mustache.

Is there someone in your life that had a huge, positive impact on you as a child?

I’d love to hear about them.

Full Circle

June 29, 2014 14 comments

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I work in a small, private, progressive school. We just celebrated our 50th Anniversary. Our philosophy begins with the premise that all kids are capable. From there, we pledge to nurture each child, every day in the hopes of fostering a love of learning that will last a lifetime.

Two weeks before the last day of school, she appeared in the doorway of our office. It was a Friday afternoon, only minutes before dismissal; the calm before the bus-boarding-storm. She was chattering a-mile-a-minute when I looked up from my desk and saw her standing there. She was an older woman, maybe in her early sixties, dressed more like she was in her thirties. She had long, wavy brown hair that was graying at the roots. There was something light even comical about her tone and her appearance. Her accessories jingled and jangled as she waved her hands to emphasize her words like a conductor would at a symphony. Barely stopping to breathe, she incessantly, repeated her name, asking if myself or my co-workers knew who she was , no — not her actually, but her daughter. Did we recognize her daughter’s name because her daughter went to this school, oh, about 30-years ago. Like a leaky faucet the words trickled out into a tale that finally ended with the keeping of a promise and a story that left a profound stirring inside me.

I did not know her, her daughter or recognize their name but our (interim) Director did, which didn’t surprise me. Before standing in as Director, while we searched for a replacement, Diane was a teacher for 34-years at our school. In fact, she was this woman’s daughter’s kindergarten teacher – oh, about 30-years ago and remembered them both well.

I was going through a very hard time back then, the woman told us. I had three children, no money and was in the middle of a divorce. Eric was running the school then and the tuition was $900.

Pause.

Eric was running the school then.

Eric, was Diane’s best friend for many, many years. He was also a teacher at our school for many, many years and although we didn’t actually have a director-by-title up until recently, by all accounts, Eric was the director here, for many, many years. Eric, was a very special person and much like Diane, beloved by hundreds if not thousands of students and parents. Eric passed away about 5-years ago from a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Sometimes in our day-to-day dealings, when there’s a hard decision to make at school, I think to myself, what would Eric do? I know my co-worker, our office manager and Eric’s sister, does too. She said those exact words just the other day. I’d bet, Diane has thought them as well. Eric would always err on the side of compassion, trust and human kindness.

It wasn’t a surprise for the three of us to learn that Eric told this woman not to worry about the $900 tuition for kindergarten that year and to pay it when she could.

She was only in this school for one little year of her life the woman said but I credit that year and her experience here with the success that she is today and every time I pass this school in my aluminum foil car I think about that and promised myself I would repay that debt when I could.

And so she did, that day, two weeks before the last day of school. She gave us $1,000 and vowed to continue to make a small monthly donation to the school from that day forward. Indeed, she kept her promise, to herself, to Eric and to the perpetuation of the human spirit.

The encounter moved me. Profoundly. It awakened in me deep hope that in an unsuspecting, fleeting moment, faith in humankind can be restored. It’s a testament in particular to the power of an act of kindness and what happens to it long after the deed is done.

It comes full circle.

It Takes A Village And A Can

December 9, 2012 17 comments

villiage

It takes a village.

~ original origins unknown

I love this phrase because it’s true.

Indeed, when raising children, it takes a village. Or a neighborhood. Or a sgoyaredchool. Or a group of amazing teachers. Or in this case, a can. Well, maybe a few hundred cans. Okay, in this case, it took 900 cans.

Goya cans that is and I’m not talking about raising children exactly, although the concept behind the phrase made famous by Hilary Clinton in 1996, is the same and the idea that when people come together to help each other to do good things, good things get done, is the implication.

In this case however, I’m talking about it taking amazing teachers and awesome, eager teams of Kindergarten through 12th grade students creatively coming together to feed hungry people in our community. (And 900 cans of course.)

They’re doing this by building incredible sculptures entirely from canned food.

The program they are participating in is called Canstruction® and, it is brilliant.

This is the first Canstruction® Jr Hudson Valley event in our region and it’s being presented by my daughter’s school. Several other schools in the area are also participating. The academic, social and humanitarian components of this project will no doubt serve to enable these outstanding students to absolutely make a difference in someone else’s life this Holiday Season. 

That is what it’s all about. Isn’t it?

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade

But in our world of plenty, we should spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

~ Do They Know It’s Christmas

For several weeks my daughter’s 6th grade class has been working with their math, science and humanities teachers along with an artist to come up with a diagram of a structure they could build using canned food. This is progressive, project-based learning at it’s best.

Their efforts culminated in 5-hours of  precisely stacking nearly 900 cans to create this melting masterpiece:

Melting Snowman

Melting Snowman

For the next week or so, this and other wonderful creations will remain on display at our local Galleria. Red bins in front of each structure will collect more cans for donation to a local soup kitchen and food bank from visitors and onlookers.  The bin with the greatest number of cans at the end of the week will receive the coveted “People’s Choice” award but the real winners in this competition are each and every student who participated. Through awareness, guidance, teaching and love these students will take with them the pride and joy of knowing their efforts helped collect thousands of cans of food that will feed hungry people in our community at Christmas time.

They are making a difference.

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It takes a village. Or a neighborhood. Or a school.

Or in this case, a group of amazing teachers and awesome students.

Oh, and 900 cans.

Or — all of the above — because when people come together to do good things,

good things get done.

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The World


There’s A Place In
Your Heart
And I Know That It Is Love
And This Place Could
Be Much
Brighter Than Tomorrow
And If You Really Try
You’ll Find There’s No Need
To Cry
In This Place You’ll Feel
There’s No Hurt Or Sorrow

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living

Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

~ Heal the World

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One Proud 6th-Grader

Photo Credits 1 – 2: Google Images

Photo Credits 3 – 6: KarenSzczukaTeich&www.Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

My Boy is a Midget

October 28, 2012 18 comments

In 1929, the owner of a new factory in Northeast Philadelphia enlisted the help of a young friend, Joseph J. Tomlin with a recurring problem. Over 100 of the factories’ ground-to-floor windows were shattered in one month’s time by teenagers hurling stones from a nearby vacant lot. Since other factories in the area were also being affected by the same type of vandalism, Tomlin, a sports enthusiast, recommended the building owners join together to fund an athletics program for the city’s youth. Although it wouldn’t be officially titled Pop Warner until the 1934 football season, that was indeed the beginnings of this long-standing organization.

Today Pop Warner is the largest and oldest non-profit, youth football organization in the world with over 400,000 participants ranging in age from 5 to 15. It is also the only youth organization with an academic requirement. The program is divided into four separate age/weight categories referred to as Jr. Pee Wee, Pee Wee, Jr. Midget and Midget.

My boy is a Midget.

His team, The HudsonValley Knights just won the Eastern Region Mid Hudson Conference. They are the League Champions and are now in the Regional Championship. They are undefeated and three games away from playing in the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Walt Disney World this December at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

For 83-years Pop Warner Football has been keeping its participants out of vacant lots, off the streets, off the couch, off the internet and on the playing fields. Over the years its basic philosophy that athletics and academics go hand-in-hand has remained the same, propelling its success. Kids are taught the value of dedication, hard work, practice and teamwork. They are given countless, hands-on opportunities to learn what it means to be responsible, have respect, integrity and loyalty.

These are the character traits of champions.

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself. And the Internet of Course.

October 21, 2012 6 comments

The only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.

The famous quote was made by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his first inaugural speech in March, 1933 just after taking the presidential oath. Most people heard Roosevelt’s speech on the radio. Television was barely getting its footing. Personal communication was conducted by a group of operators working a local switchboard and there was nothing personal about it. Most telephone systems had party-lines with two to four households on the same circuit.

Callers were urged to be brief and courteous — no eavesdropping.

There was no such thing as a cell phone. Texting was nonexistent. Clearly, Roosevelt had never surfed the net. In fact, it would be nearly 50 years before the internet would be introduced and another 40 after that before it would literally explode, offering access to everyone, to information, places and spaces one could only dream of in 1933.

Email. Skype. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. OoVoo. Blogging. YouTube. Flickr. Wiki. MySpace.

People need people. Social media forums on the internet are emerging as we speak, providing a wide variety of venues for us to communicate thoughts and ideas, to share with one another.

Like the Black Hole the internet expands well into the vastness of the unknown, certainly my unknown. Its realm is daunting. It can and to a certain degree should be, considered a scary place, especially to those of us who grew up painstakingly practicing our cursive writing and memorizing the proper finger placement on a typewriter’s keyboard.

Every innovation has its resistors and no matter what is said or done, some of us will never be able to wrap our heads around the possibilities but for parents and educators alike, it would be negligent to ignore it. Children are curious sponges. They learn and adapt as they grow. For the most part, they are unaware of the dangers that lurk in the minds and hearts of unkind people who also have access to these many social forums.

We have a choice. We can try to hide ourselves and them from the evils of the internet or we can, if not embrace it, at least try to understand the workings of these new forums so that we can help our youth explore them and use them safely with meaningful purpose and a sense of responsibility.

Scientia potentia est ~

Knowledge is power.

The internet is not going away. It is ever-growing and changing how and where we communicate, forever. Our children will learn from it, work and play on it. No doubt their footprints will be embedded in code for who knows how many future generations to see.

Who would push a child into the on-coming traffic of a busy highway leaving them to fend for themselves?

We don’t have to agree or like it but we would be remiss not to educate ourselves the best we can with these new technologies. With knowledge we can prepare our children; arm them, take them by the hand and guide them safely across this super-highway that will inevitably encourage them to leave their digital mark on society.

Photo Creidt #1: Switchboard Operators/GoogleImages

Photo Credits #2: Social Media/GoogleImages

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