Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Education’

And Then There Were Six….

June 28, 2015 11 comments

amlk

The pool was full. Crowded as a matter of fact. With about 170 people to choose from, what were the chances they would pick me?

Recently I was “called” to Jury Duty. I’ve never “served” before.

In part, the Jury Summons read:
Tell your employer you are summoned to serve as a juror. Call after 5pm each evening before your appearance date to learn whether or not you are to report to the Central Jury Room.

Things to know:

  • Jurors are paid $40 per day. Travel, parking and lunch, are not included.
  • There are no exemptions everyone who is eligible must serve.
  • You have a legal obligation to serve.
  • Failure to respond to the summons is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to 30 days or both.

Jurors are on-call for jury selection for one week.

I forgot to call the first night. It was Sunday, May 10th, Mother’s Day and I’d just spent a truly glorious day with my two kids picnicking and hiking at a favorite spot. I completely panicked Monday morning when I got to work and remembered to call. Luckily, the recorded message from the night before indicated that there was no jury duty that day.

In fact, each evening following, the recording repeated the same message: “no jury duty” the next day.

By the time Thursday rolled around, I assumed I had dodged-a-bullet of sorts. While it’s true I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury, this summons came at the worst possible time for me. I’m an Admissions Coordinator at a private school and with barely 4 weeks left before the end of the school year, I was wrapping up tours, and contracts and solidifying enrollment for the following year. There were day-to-day dealings that needed attention and end-of-the-year activities I needed to attend and document. And that didn’t include the fact that my own two kids had end-of-the-year events at their school as well, that required my attention or attendance, including a sports banquet and a “moving up ceremony”. To say I was busy would be an understatement.

Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised when Thursday night’s message indicated that juror numbers 2001 through 2185, were to report to the Commissioner of Jurors at 9:00am the next morning. I was juror number 2164.

Friday, May 15
The line began to form outside the Jury Building shortly before the doors opened promptly at 9:00am. In an orderly fashion, we filed into a large room filled with seats. Somewhere I had read that Wi-Fi was available in the Jury Building so I brought a book and my laptop. Fridays are my busiest days at work. I also, had it in my head that I’d just be sitting around for hours before going home and I might as well get a jump on my work if I could. After taking a seat I glanced around the room. There were about 80 of us. Sometime within the two-weeks between when we all received our summons and being seated in this room, the pool had shrunk by more than half.

On the original Summons, there’s a statement that reads:
“You may ask for a one-time postponement of up to 6 months.”

If you cannot serve, contact the Commissioner of Jurors before your date of service.

A second postponement may be requested if:

  • you have a family or medical emergency
  • serving on a jury for 5 or more days will pose severe financial hardship to you
  • you are a student currently enrolled in classes
  • you are 78 years of age or older

I took my “postponement” several years ago when my kids were little and I was their “primary care taker”. Perhaps the missing potential jurors had exercised their request for a one-time postponement or were exempt for some of the reasons listed above. Maybe they just didn’t show up. What happens if you just don’t show up? I learned later that the Commissioner of Jurors will send the Sheriff out to escort you in. At least, that’s what she said when someone asked.

The Commissioner of Jurors was a professionally dressed, pleasant, no-nonsense, middle-aged woman with short blondish-grayish hair who spoke with authority. She clearly explained to us what to expect. We were being called for a civil trial that might “take a while”, she said. The words barely left her lips when one by one, row-by-row, hands immediately sprung up and excuses as to why people couldn’t or didn’t want to be a juror began to fly through air. Some of them sounded quite legitimate, some, not so much.

  • I have no childcare.
  • I’m a college student and taking summer classes that begin next week.
  • I can’t hear very well.
  • I have a wedding to go to.
  • My daughter is graduating in another state.
  • I have no transportation to get here.
  • I own my own business and no one can take my place. etc., etc.

Swiftly and decisively the Commissioner addressed each person and their excuse. Within 10-minutes we lost about 30 more potential jurors. It was obvious she’d been down this road before. She was pro. I was impressed and told her so when the opportunity presented itself. The rest of us were asked to fill out some standard paper work and a Juror Questionnaire in carbon copy. The questionnaire was designed specifically for the type of case we were here for.  We each kept a copy and the others went to the Judge, the Plaintiffs attorney and the Defense attorney to be used during Jury Selection.

Question #14

Have you or someone close to you ever:
(among other things….)

Been the victim of a crime

Okay. I thought to myself, here’s why they’re going to let me go, for sure.

The Commissioner of Jurors then asked us to stand. She and a Court Officer escorted us to the Court House where Jury Selection would begin. Watches and bracelets were placed in small bins along with our bags and pocket items and then sent through an x-ray machine as we each walked through a body scanner to enter the building.

We were headed to the 4th floor. There’s only one small elevator in the Court Building. I, like many others, chose to take the stairs. One smiling woman and three gentlemen in suits greeted us into a courtroom directing us to take a seat in the gallery. The gallery is where “spectators” sit. This was a classic courtroom, much like the ones you see on T.V. shows. The gallery was filled with rows of beautiful, wooden pew-style benches. A bar or railing separated the gallery from the attorney’s tables, and in the front of the room stood the Bench, which is the raised desk the judge sits at, with doors on either side. Facing the gallery, the jury box was to the left of the judge’s bench. There was a separate entrance to the jury box where members of the jury sat that was also enclosed by a rail. The witness box (or stand) was a raised seat between the bench and the jury box.

court

The last time I’d been in a courtroom, the Judge had invited me into the “well” (the open space between the bench and the council tables) to read a letter I had been encouraged to write by a parole officer named Diane. As I faced the bench, Diane stood by my right side holding my arm ever so gently, in an effort to help me steady my shaking hand as I read an Impact Statement to the Court. That was about five years ago and the reason I thought I would be eliminated at some point from the pool.

As I sat in the gallery of this courtroom, I was immediately drawn to the stacks, of white cardboard boxes (the kind you might use to hold file folders in) that were placed along the inside of the railing behind the Plaintiff’s table. There had to be at least twenty of them. I couldn’t help but wonder what was in them. There was also a stack of about ten 3’ x 5’ white poster-boards leaning against a table inside the well, in front of the bench. They too captured my interest. The next thing I noticed was that there were three attorney tables. If there’s a Plaintiff and a Defendant, to whom did the third table belong to? It wasn’t long before we learned that the Plaintiffs had filed suit against “two doctors” and an “institution and its staff of nurses”. The doctors had one attorney and the institution and its nurses had a separate attorney. Two Defendants.

We were asked to come into the jury box via random selection. Juror “numbers” were randomly picked out of a clear tube with hand crank, similar to a bingo cage where the hand-crank is used to mix up the balls before they’re lifted through a latched opening and “called out” when the cylinder comes to a rest. The remaining juror numbers were typed on small pieces of paper and tumbled inside the tube before selected. The tube sat on the middle council table. If your number was called, you were asked to leave the gallery and come and sit in the jury box where the three sets of lawyers would take turns asking a variety of questions.

A civil trial requires 6 jurors and 2 alternates to be picked to “hear” the case.

The lawyers tried not to reveal too much detail about the actual case, only giving us information that was necessary and could aid in their selection process. When your number was picked, your questionnaire was pulled and a copy was given to each “side”. After the first eight potential jurors were called, some cursory, general questions were posed to the “box” and the “gallery” and again, one by one, hands shot into the air. This time, a line formed at the entrance to the courtroom and private discussions were held with all four attorneys in the hall. Some folks returned to the gallery but many, we never saw again.

  • Do you or does anyone in your immediate family work in the medical field?
  • Have you or anyone in your immediate family ever had a heart attack?
  • Have you or anyone in your immediate family ever been to Vassar Hospital?

One super-obnoxious man who felt the need to make his feelings known to us all, all-day-long, couldn’t help but make a remark after the third question was asked:

We live here. We’ve all been to Vassar!

And indeed, it is a local hospital, pretty much everyone had. So we all joined the line that began to snake around the gallery and each of us had our private huddle in the hallway. When it was my turn, the attorneys wanted to when and why I’d been to Vassar.

“I have two sports-playing, teenagers.” I said, “Aside from giving birth there, let’s just say we’ve frequented the ER more than once over the years, as recently as this past November when my son broke his collar bone in two places playing soccer and last month, when my daughter sprained her wrist at the bowling alley.”

The Plaintiffs lawyer then asked:

“Would you be inclined to favor Vassar in any way as a result of your visits there?”

“No, I said. Not necessarily.”

They all smiled and sent me back to the gallery.

This is how it went for the majority of the day. Words like policies, procedures, protocol and expert testimony were used in the questioning. Sometimes statements would be made and a brief discussion between a lawyer and the jurors in the box would ensue.

As the hours passed, the grunts and grumblings grew louder. It was frustrating and disheartening to me, not to mention distracting. I kept thinking, if I ever needed a jury, I wouldn’t want people who didn’t care or didn’t want to be there, making a judgment on my behalf. I was really trying to pay attention to the questions the attorneys were asking or discussing. I was trying to understand how this process was working or if it was working. Despite the “bad timing” — for all of us, I’m sure — I’m the cornball, who believes we’re all privileged at birth by the freedoms we have in this country and that serving on a jury is important and an honor, in addition to being our civil duty. I was taking the process very seriously (and thankfully, I wasn’t the only one.)

This is the crux of our judicial system. Isn’t it?

I wanted to believe that it was.

aneinstein

Despite the huffing and puffing about how long this was taking, the attorneys plowed through the day taking their turns asking questions, making statements, having brief discussions. I began to formulate a sense of who they were in my own mind.

asmilingcat

The only woman attorney was one of two lawyers for the Plaintiffs. The pair came from a firm in Maryland. The woman was about 5’4, in her late 50s and had straight, brown, shoulder-length hair parted at the side. She wore black heels and a belted dress that fanned out at the bottom like an umbrella. It was chilly in the courtroom. She wore a sweater. She also wore a “permanent” smile on her face. It reminded me of the “Cheshire Cat”, not in a bad way, just as a matter of fact. She graduated with J.D. Honors Citation from George Washington University Law School, 1985 after getting her Bachelors of Arts at the University of Maryland. Maybe it was that she appeared competent or that she was the only woman attorney or both, but there was something very interesting about her, to me.

acheshire

Like the Cheshire Cat ever smiling, she silently observed everything and EVERYONE. She did not ask any questions of the potential jurors though, that was left to her partner. The older man was seemingly pleasant. He had a slight build and was not much taller than she was. He had a small, oval face and his receding hairline was met with long thinning strands of silver that swept across the middle of his head.  A 1971 graduate of the University of Maryland School of law, this man was well seasoned, well learned and well dressed. His smile exuded confidence and he was clearly comfortable in his own skin. There was an “old school” wisdom or charm about him and when he walked around the courtroom, there was a spring to his step, literally. When I looked at him Jiminy Cricket came to mind.

ajiminy

The two lawyers for the two defendants gave off a kind of “good cop – bad cop” vibe to me from the way they interacted with each other. The “good cop”, was a local attorney who represented the two doctors. He was a man in his mid-to-late 40s, of medium build, brown hair, a dad of three. He seemed like  a “nice” guy. Friendly. His “thing” I noticed, was to ask , “fair question or fair statement?” when “interviewing jurors in the box. It was as if he was establishing a level playing field or seeking your approval. He was smart. Likeable and I liked him. He was a graduate of Cornell University and went on to Washington University School of Law where he graduated in 1996 as a member of the Order of Barristers.

adad

The “bad cop” was not really a “bad cop” at all. It’s just the way the two attorneys seemed to feed off of each other, after each other that highlighted the differences in their personalities. By all accounts, the “hospital’s” lawyer was sharp, smooth. The word, “slick” comes to mind, but again, not in a bad way. More like, in a “polished” or experienced way. A handsome man in his late 50s, his crystal blue eyes sparkled right into the gallery. He was a former DA and veteran trial lawyer. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School after completing a rigorous pre-med undergrad program giving him a unique understanding of medical cases. He came from a firm about an hour south of us. He didn’t smile nearly as much as the other lawyers and when he did I noticed a slight gap between his top two middle teeth. He approached the podium in front of the jury box with thoughtfulness. You could almost “see” his mind working. He would say something and then intentionally hesitate before speaking again, planting a seed. He gave you “food for thought.” He’d build his questions slowly and then strike quickly, deliberately, like a viper. Try as I did to change the thought, I just couldn’t and from day one, I called him “The Viper.” There was no question he was there to defend and he’s a man you would want to be defending you. His message was very clear: WAIT until you hear ALL of the evidence, until the Defense has a chance to present their case before making a judgment.

I could do that.

anotherviper

The selection process was at times a little confusing. Even though the attorneys had the questionnaires of the eight people in the jury box, when they asked questions, they would often also, face the gallery. Hands would shoot up into the air, a line would form by the door and private meetings would take place in the hall. More potential jurors were “let go”. After the lunch break, the pool had dwindled to about 35. By day’s end, there were 12 of us left in the gallery with 8 still in the box.  I’d just about convinced myself that perhaps I had dodged the bullet when the attorneys nestled together near the counsels’ tables. I thought well, that was it and the 8 in the box were the ones. But after their brief, quiet discussion amongst themselves, at 4:45pm that Friday afternoon, all 20 of us were asked to return on Monday morning at 9:00am.

Admittedly, I was shocked.

Still, the whole process intrigued me. Somehow by this point, all the grunters and groaners were gone. All day long, I was interested, fascinated even, at the method of elimination and how it played out but at no point during that day, not for one second, did it ever cross my mind that what was about to unfold would become all-consuming and at times emotionally and mentally overwhelming, not to mention, a life changing event.

Note: While this is more than a blog post, it’s not quite a book however, it is a story that I feel the need to tell and although it’s not so much about the details of the trial, it is about the incredible process of our judicial system, from jury selection to verdict. So if you’re interested, stay tuned….

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.

b28

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.

b23

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

b30

One Proud 6th-Grader

Photo Credits 1 – 2: Google Images

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

Transition 101

September 16, 2012 10 comments

September is a time of change for many of us and change is a fact of life.

In the northeast, the warm weather wanes, temperatures begin to dip and cool breezes begin to blow. Our evenings get chilly and the mornings turn slightly brisk. After any kind of change, there is always a period of adjustment. Here in New York, sweaters are coming out of the closets, pants are being worn instead of shorts. Sneakers and socks are starting to replace sandals. September means school. Teachers and students are going back to school and in many cases, a new school. In some cases they’re going to a new middle school. Middle school is notorious for being difficult to navigate and signifies a huge change for kids ages 11 through 14. It can be a very scary endeavor.

For some kids the transition into middle school is really hard and approached tentatively.

They quietly tread their new paths lightly.

Others kids approach their new experience like an adventure.

They embrace it.

Jump into it with both feet.

Color their hair purple three days before the first day of classes….

…and then proceed to run for class representative, in their  brand new school.

 

Go get ’em baby girl!

How do you meet change?

Photo Credit #1:  Google Images
Photo Credit #2 – #5: ©Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

The Child Whisperer

March 11, 2012 25 comments

The flip-side of last week’s post thankfully, is that there are many amazing teachers that devote their whole lives to educating children. These people influence who we are in the most positive of ways, for life. Children do not forget who they are. They too are remembered and cherished forever.

In the Spring of 2001, curiosity got the better of me. My quest to find the right preschool for my overly active, precocious, almost 3-year-old son, finally provided the opportunity for me to see what was really going on in the mysterious looking Victorian house that sits majestically upon a hill overlooking the busy-ness of Route 9D. Little did I know as I walked into the hallway that echoed with song and laughter, that in-between the walls of this house that was a school, magic happened.

We were met by the cheerful smile of a woman who greeted us in the same friendly way you might be greeted by a favorite aunt. She introduced herself as Diane. We later found out that she was actually the Head Teacher of the Downstairs Program and an Administrator. The Downstairs portion of the house belongs to the 3, 4 and 5-year old learners. Immediately after introducing herself, she turned her attention to her real interest; the fidgety, inquisitive, little person clutching my leg with one hand and squeezing my arm with the other. She positioned herself on bended-knee to meet my boy; to see him, face-to-face, and as soon as I witnessed this act of immense respect from an adult educator to a 3-year-old child, I knew we had just walked into a very, very special place.

There is something about looking a person in the eye when you speak to them that makes them feel like you are sincerely interested in who they are and what they have to say and she was. He could tell.

You can’t fool children. Instinctively, they know sincerity.

My Noah, thrilled to be standing on the back of a hay truck during a visit to the farm with Diane. Preschool 2001

Diane wasn’t my son’s group teacher until two years later, but being the head of the Downstairs team, her influences and interactions were intertwined with all of the children. In his second year there, at age 4, having no trouble expressing himself verbally or physically among his peers, Diane “shadowed” Noah on the playground. Being the Child Whisperer* that she is, she followed him in his play, gently helping him choose kinder words and actions when he mingled with his friends.

Friends. That’s what Diane calls all of her students.

Okay, friends, it’s time to clean up the block room or Okay friends, we are going to get ready for lunchtime circle now.  

Diane and Hannah playing with the play-dough she brought to our house.

Part of the school’s tradition was for the Downstairs’ teachers to make home visits to the children in their groups before school began in September. Twice we’ve been thrilled to welcome Diane into our home; once when my son was in her kindergarten group and again, before the start of my daughter’s first year at the Randolph School. Diane was her preschool teacher. She came bearing soft, freshly made play-dough to an unbelievably excited three-year-old fairy.

      Talk about leaving a lasting impression!

This amazing teacher does not limit her generous nature to the children in her group. My daughter was struggling with writing in the second grade while in the Upstairs portion of this glorious house that is a school and where the older kids, first through fifth graders claim their domain. After asking me how Hannah was doing one day, I mentioned this to Diane who then took it upon herself to become her pen-pal that summer. Each envelope that arrived in our mailbox contained a hand written note and then some. Sparkly-feathery, sticker-y, lovely, glittery things would come pouring out before the letter.

The smallest act of kindness has the power to leave a very big, positive impact on a person’s life.

When my son was in kindergarten and told Diane he was playing the lottery for the first time, she told him to call her at home that night to let her know if he won. Had he won, no doubt, his reaction would have paled in comparison to the excitement he was overcome with when it came time to call Diane at her house and tell her he didn’t win.

Another time my son was scheduled to be in After-school but was the only child enrolled that afternoon. After bringing that to my attention the After-school teacher asked me if it would be okay to cancel. Since I only put him in because he wanted to stay at school, I agreed. This news was a huge disappointment to my little first grader and he through a massive fit on the porch of the school. That evening after speaking with him and hearing how much he was looking forward to being in After-school, I realized I had made a grave mistake by so willingly accepting the cancellation, simply because he was the only child enrolled. The next day, I sought Diane out and explained what happened. I asked her what the school’s policy was if there was only one child enrolled in the After-school program. Her response was swift and clear.

If one child wants to come to After-school, we have After-school.  Now, she said, there’s one thing left for us to do.

With that, she called over the After-school teacher. The two of them went Upstairs, retrieved my son from class, apologized to him, hugged him and invited him to stay in After-school that day.

Truly extraordinary.

Diane seining in the Hudson River with another amazing teacher and their preschoolers. Noah, first in line, is like a sponge, soaking up everything they do and say.

Whether it’s a tender heart that needs mending, a river that begs seining or a rocket that needs launching, Diane has been soothing little souls, helping them to feel capable and confident in who they are, what they can do and who they might become since 1978 at the Randolph School.

 Don’t get your liver in a quiver she’ll tell them when they begin to fret.

5-year-old Hannah launching her rocket with Diane.

A person who can consistently touch the lives of the people she comes in contact with, both big and small and make each one of them, myself included, feel special nearly every time she interacts with them has an EXTRAORDINARY gift. Truly.

That is Diane.

My children are better people for having been taught by Diane. I’m a better person for knowing her and having the honor of “over-hearing” how she speaks with and teaches children for the past six years while I quietly work across the hall from the Great Room where she spends much of her time with her friends.

A few months ago Diane announced that this will be her last year teaching in the big house that is a school and as inevitable as it was, the news has surely saddened many. No matter where Diane goes however, her influence, kindness and ability to make everyone she meets feel special will live on in our hearts, always. She is the teacher, the colleague, the friend that changes your life in the most positive of ways.

It is befitting that this weekend, Diane is presenting a workshop with a former student, who is now her young colleague and who is also bursting with similar magical qualities, at a conference in New York City entitled, In Defense of Childhood: Keeping the Joy of Learning Alive!

She’s been doing exactly that for nearly 34-years.

As my soon to be 11-year-old fairy who’s been receiving birthday and Christmas surprises from this teacher every year for almost as long as she’s been at this school would say so matter-of-factly…

 “Mom. She’s Diane!”

Is there a Diane that has positively impacted your life?

Photo Credit #1 The Randolph School

Photo Credit #2-6 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Title Credit: *Child Whisperer Thank you, Nicole for letting me borrow this description of Diane from you!

Confessions of a Catholic School Survivor

March 4, 2012 19 comments

Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world they have no voice
They have no choice

Bless the beasts and the children
For the world can never be
The world they see

She was tucking the light-yellow and blue plastic container of Vaseline Intensive Care back into a drawer of her desk and we had barely returned to the hardwood chair that uncomfortably attached itself to our desks, when over the PA system came the voice of doom. The announcement demanded that all the girls who’d been to the third floor bathroom in the last ten-minutes come to the school’s auditorium, immediately!

The pock-marked, red-faced teacher who’d just finished slathering cream all over her angry face and whose first words to me after reading my name on the roster for the first time in her 7th grade math class were,Oh, no! Not another one. You’d better not be like your sister!” eyed us suspiciously. Without a word she nodded toward the classroom door and myself and the girl I’d just been excused with immediately rose.

I will never understand why teachers who don’t like children teach. They seem to enjoy being mean or hurtful. It’s sadistic and kids can always tell who they are.

This girl and I were quite different and while I wouldn’t say we were the best of friends, we were, friendly. Confusion and fear ran through my 12-year-old body as we came upon the two fifth-graders whose entry into the girl’s room only minutes ago, prompted us to quickly discard the evidence. My heart was racing and my brain was in overdrive. Did they say something? They couldn’t have. They wouldn’t be called here with us if they did. Besides, like two little kittens cornered by a pit bull, they were clearly shaking with fear. It was all I could do to keep my fear from being as transparent as theirs.

The auditorium was dark and empty of people although we stood at the back of what seemed like endless rows of gray, metal folding chairs that stopped right in front of the big black piano that rested itself off to the side of the stage. In the distance came the echoing of footsteps clapping steadily over the hard, cold, stone floors. The door swung open and she walked in. With an ever present “gotcha” attitude and a permanently stern look on her face, she glanced us over in one terse swoop as we stood nervously in a row, all wearing the same white collared blouses beneath regulation sweaters and plaid skirts that varied in length, above and below the knee.

I think you know why you are here, she said, confidently. Can anyone tell me what was going on in the third floor bathroom? Does anyone have anything to say?

No one spoke.

Okay, maybe this will help, she said and she pulled from her pocket as only a vice principal in charge of being the heavy can, a white tissue, neatly folded into a rectangle. Do you know what this is? She asked.

Of course we didn’t know! How could we know? We were scared, witless to her antics and worried about our fates for crying-out-loud! We stood there gaping at her treasure as she slowly and quite dramatically unfolded the tissue. In her Perry Mason moment she revealed the evidence we had discarded only minutes ago.

Full props for her unexpected display of shock and awe. Her quick reaction and immediate response brought the perpetrators directly to her lair.

We had immediately discarded the evidence. Actually, my friend threw it out the window in a panic when we heard the bathroom door opening and the two fifth graders came in. Now, here it was before us, stained with the glaring, red markings that obviously pointed to at least one of us. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up to school and the fifth graders were too young, but there she stood, my friendly schoolmate, smiling her deep, red, shiny smile, as we viewed the incredible, half-smoked cigarette butt that held the imprint of my friend’s lipstick-laden, lips.

Unbelievable! How was this possible? What are the chances of throwing a half-smoked cigarette butt out of a third floor bathroom window only to have it land on the concrete ledge of the vice principal’s open window, while she was sitting in her office?

A gazillion to one, maybe?

Evidently pleased with herself, she carefully re-folded her prize and in another dramatic moment, told us she was going to leave us alone for a few minutes and let us talk it over.

Slaughter to the altar.

I can’t speak to Catholic School these days but the one I went to thirty-years ago reveled in discipline and there was without doubt, a constant, underlying movement to instill the fear to behave in otherwise good kids. As a child functioning under those conditions, you tend to find yourself in a perpetual state of “survival-mode” knowing that anything you do or say could be deemed bad. When it’s evident that the truth will not set you free but possibly get you expelled or left with a permanent mark on your record or worse, a tarnished reputation, you make another choice.

For right or for wrong and without a single word being uttered between us, in her two-minute absence, collectively, we made a decision on how this was going to go. When she returned, it was apparent that she fully expected the culprit(s) to have cracked and step forward or be offered up by the others so that she could swoop down and usher the fallen-soul to the next level of punishment.

Instead however, we presented her with a force she was clearly unprepared for.

There was no crying or finger-pointing. On the contrary, she was met with silence.

Well?  She said, impatiently

Nothing.

We said nothing. We were silent, the four of us and the vice principal who sometimes wore two different shoes to school and whose forehead was now growing red with frustration, didn’t know what to do. Clearly the evidence pointed to at least one of us but there were in fact four of us in that bathroom and no one was giving the other up.

After several minutes of agonizing silence, she reluctantly dismissed us and never a word was spoken about it again, by anyone.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t step up and take responsibility for your actions but I don’t regret the decision we made that day not to speak up. We were all pretty good kids who were often treated in a not-so-good way by some of the adults in our lives.This was after all, the same school that called my parents in to convey their concern for my then six-year old brother after he drew a black Jesus Christ. Aside from the fact that because of the climate we know Jesus lived in there’s no doubt he was a brown-skinned man, when asked by my parents why he drew Jesus black, he said it was the only crayon he could find.

Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storm
Keep them safe
Keep them warm

~ Richard Carpenter & John Bettis

Photo Credits #1-4 Google Images

The Devil Made Him Do It!

October 16, 2011 8 comments

Either that, or it was his funny bone!

©2007 NHT Noah Henry Teich

Some people are just naturally funny. They don’t have to try hard. The joke just kind of flows out of them, or their PowerPoint presentation.

I ask you, what’s life without a little humor?

Seriously. I know this 15-year old sophomore who happens to be a funny guy and who happens to go to a Catholic school. I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten to 12th grade. Anyone who has ever gone to Catholic school knows, funny and religion do-not-mix-well. Do one “funny” thing and you’re immediately slapped with the “class clown” label for as long as you go to that school. Being the class clown in Catholic school can mean countless hours of detention, clapping the erasers (cause they still have erasers) or worse; points taken off grades. It can mean being called out of class and calls made home, to parents; not to mention purposeful, public scoldings designed to put you in the position of becoming the “example” for any other student who might be thinking humor belongs in school. Thus, the funny guy becomes the fall guy.

In short, Catholic School is 99.9% serious business. Recently, my funny friend, fell.

Here’s what happened:

The  Religious Assignment

Make a PowerPoint presentation talking about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Back Story

Saint Juan Diego

According to tradition, on December 9, 1531 Juan Diego, a young, simple indigenous peasant, had a vision of a young woman while he was on a hill in the Tepeyac desert, near Mexico City. The lady told him to build a church exactly on the spot where they were standing. He told the local bishop, who asked for some proof. He went back and had the vision again. He told the lady that the bishop wanted proof, and she said “Bring the roses behind you.” Turning to look, he found a rose bush growing behind him.He cut the roses, placed them in his poncho and returned to the bishop, saying he had brought proof. When he opened his poncho, instead of roses, there was an image of the young lady in the vision. (Manga Hero)

St. Juan Diego is proof that God uses those who are most humble to do His work. By all accounts, Juan Diego, was a humble and young man.

Serious stuff.

My young, sophomore friend, who also happens to be an honor student, put all of this serious information into his Power Point presentation, only when it came time to reveal Juan Diego’s likeness, my funny friend flashed this image to his class:

Saint Juan Diego - maybe

Come on, now THAT is funny!

Needless to say, this startling, daring, depiction of the young, blessed Saint Juan Diego in my friend’s Power Point presentation brought the class to pandemonium to put it mildly; uncontrollable laughter burst onto the scene, requiring the teacher to admonish the class several times before order was restored.

The Consequence

Being called out of the next class. A call home to the parents. 18 points taken off the final grade, giving this slacker an 82 out of 100% on the report and a mandatory apology letter to the teacher (at the teacher’s request, of course).

Inside information from the mom: apology letter number one, had to be scratched when the boy, after saying he was sorry to the teacher, said he only did it to try to keep the rest of the students from falling asleep in class. “Kudos”, I say for at least being truthful.

 Was it worth the laugh?  I asked him.

Yes. It was totally worth the laugh. I thought these Power Points could use some funny moments.

There you have it and again, there’s got to be something said for the honesty here, not to mention, you are witnessing a comedian in the making.  I sent the boy $10 in the mail along with a note telling him not to be disrespectful but never to lose his sense of humor.

The world needs more levity if you will; more laughter.

The Result

Not only will every student  in that religion class remember the story of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, always and forever, they will remember it, with a smile on their face.

The Disclaimer

While the views expressed by this student do in fact reflect those of this author, ABSOLUTELY NO DISRESPECT is meant toward the Catholic church, its teachers or teachings.

I’m Catholic. I went to Catholic school and I only WISH some kid had the moxie to do something–anything to cause the type of uproar and uncontrollable laughter in class that this boy did.

It would have made the whole experience more human, with more humor.

Photo Credit #1  ©2007 Noah Henry Teich

(All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced.)

Photo Credit #2 Saint Juan Diego

Photo Credit #3 Forwarded From The Nameless Catholic Boy

Not-So-TechNo-Savvy

October 8, 2011 16 comments

This week I went to curriculum night at my tween-age boy’s school. He’s in the 8th grade. After a brief introduction by the head master and head of the middle school, we were directed to our children’s “Advisory” class-rooms or to put it more plainly, their “home-rooms”. From there, we were to switch classes, like our kids do, only we’d be spending 10-minutes rather than 100, in each of five classes. As a nod to the general “age-group” of the parents in attendance and to emphasize the progression of technology over the years, the archaic sound of the internet connecting through the phone lines via modem was played over the PA system, signaling us to move on to the next class.

For your listening pleasure and for those who are too young to remember anything but silence when connecting to the “net”, I borrowed one of YouTube’s renditions of a 56K Modem making the internet connection, back in the day.

Easy enough, I thought. How difficult could this be?

While I appreciate the nostalgic effect that particular sound brings with it, it truly has to be one of the most annoying sounds on the planet.

After ten minutes in five classes and a brief description of options offered in the “Arts” quite frankly, I was dizzy. It wasn’t the obnoxious modem sound or the subject matter that threw me, it was the technology and how information is disseminated that left me feeling well, stressed. Truth be told, I was absolutely exhausted by the time I left. It was overwhelming to try to keep up with how information gets exchanged between student and teacher and parent and administration, without a single piece of paper being is used.

Gone are the pen and pencil requirements. I’m not even sure these kids know what loose-leaf is anymore. There are hardly any textbooks either. Every child has to have their own lap top –in class! Homework and class assignments are posted either on the school’s website, a white board or a smart-board. When completed, the student uploads their work to a Google-docs, except in science where they put it into a wiki page on a wiki space. Here the students interactively edit each other’s pages and the teacher leaves comments or wiki-texts for individual students.

No offense, but I’m just starting to get the hang of  regular “text-ing”.

What is “wiki-text-ing” and is it really necessary? Am I going to have to learn this too?

In science my son is going to be “paired” with a student from another school who is working on the same experiment his class is; one involving Menthos and Diet Coke –think lots of fizz and a minor, okay maybe not so minor, explosion! The pair will video-chat their methods and findings.

Are you still with me? 

Good because by the time I got to the third class, I was losing steam and clarity, rapidly!

It started with the white board, moved to the smartboard and in Spanish we were introduced to the (new) soundboard! This is not like something you would find in a radio station. It’s something the student uses at home. They speak their homework into their computer and through this new program and technology, the teacher “hears” how they’re speaking in Spanish on her computer and assesses their progress.

In order to better grasp these technologies and try to make sense of what I saw, I tried looking them up when I got home. Here’s what I found:

A Smart Board is a series of interactive whiteboards developed by Smart Technologies and includes the 600 series, the 800 series and the 400 series (only available in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Mexico). The first Smart Board interactive whiteboard was introduced in 1991. (Wikipedia)

Got it? 

Me neither.

An “interactive whiteboard” is the electronic equivalent of the physical whiteboard and may be software in a user’s computer or a stand-alone unit. It allows users in remote locations to simultaneously view a running application or view someone’s drawings on screen. Whiteboards may or may not provide application sharing, in which two or more people are actually working in the same application at the same time. (PC Magazine)

I think they’re messing with me here.

Is a smart board a whiteboard or a whiteboard a smart-board or what??

A soundboard is a computer program, Web application, or device, traditionally created in Adobe Flash that catalogues and plays many short soundbites and audio clips. Soundboards are self-contained, requiring no outside media player. (Wikipedia)

I totally got lost on this one. Is it a program or a device? Does the kid have this board at home? Is this another required purchase?

And again, is this something I am going to have to learn how to use?

I’m confused.

Even though I don’t quite understand them, I am pretty blown away by the capabilities of these boards although, I can’t say I’m fully on board with what seems like an inundation of technology.

Truthfully, I miss the chalk board.

Photo Credit #1 Chalk Board

Video Credit #1 56K Modem

Photo Credit #2 Smart Board

Photo Credit #3 White Board

Photo  Credit #4 Texting

%d bloggers like this: