Saturday, June 30, 2012

Celebrating dads in 2012

Fathers' Day 2012 was especially meaningful for our family this year. Each year on Mother's Day and Father's Day at our church, members are asked to get up and share memories of their parents and reflect on the day. This year my brother--one year and a half sober and recently attending church with us regularly--was asked to speak. This was a surprise for my dad, as was the fact that my sister and her family came down to surprise him for the day.

After church we gathered at my parents' house for lunch and play:


The puppies

It was warm enough to eat outside!




My sister Nadine and husband David

With my wonderful husband
On Father's Day we also celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary!


Dad with his offspring


Mom and Dad with their youngest grandchild
Fun day! A few days later Nadine and David and kids drove down for the day, yet again, for my aunt's funeral.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chris is now a sophomore!

Thomas A. Edison High School
Last year at this time we were having constant conflict with our oldest son, because we decided to send him to a private high school. Throughout the summer (in fact, right up until school started) we had emotional debates, and the discussion was nearly always the same...because it's hard to get into Thomas A. Edison High School, when Chris was accepted we told him that we wanted him to give it a try. If he didn't like it, he could always go to the public high school. And to trust us...would we be paying a truckload of money if we didn't really believe it was the best thing for him? He grudgingly agreed (before starting up the argument again) and the cycle continued from spring into the fall.


With his grandparents on Grandparents Day
When school started, he pronounced it to be "okay" at first, but it didn't take long until he started feeling at home. He made friends; enjoyed playing in the band, participating in drama club, and attending Homecoming at adjacent Jesuit High School; quickly got accustomed to the small class size and community nature of the school; and gradually began to feel at home. We noticed that at the first of the year, he told people that he went to Jesuit...but soon he claimed Edison as his own.
On an excursion early in the year


This is some of what we like about Edison:
  • Small class sizes and individual attention (only 80 kids in the whole school, and most classes are 6-8)
  • Amazing faculty and staff--who really love these kids and their quirkiness!
  • Everyone knows everyone else (similar to the smallish church we attend)
  • Extremely rare behavior problems (this is a precursor to acceptance)
  • Weekly progress reports in all subjects, so we know if our student is keeping up or falling behind
  • Personal calls and e-mails from teachers on how our student is doing
  • Leadership and self-improvement opportunities for the kids
  • Unconditional acceptance (huge for any teenagers, but especially those who never felt they really fit in before)
  • No cliques
  • Fun social activities for the kids, including regular overnight excursions
  • Opportunity to participate in Jesuit activities, especially arts enrichment
  • Kids become comfortable with their learning disabilities (typically ADD or ADHD, dyslexia, Asperger's, Tourette's, etc.) and learn how to not just cope with them but use them to their advantages

Homecoming

Someone recently asked Chris how his school handled bullying, and he said "There is no bullying at my school." Imagine that. This culture and individual attention are why we are making financial sacrifices to send him to school there. I wish all teenagers had the opportunity to benefit from those things. Fortunately, Edison has a high percentage of kids who receive financial aid and a large endowment fund for kids whose families cannot afford the tuition.

Chris did really well during his first year and got all As and Bs. He did great in math in particular, the subject he has always struggled with the most. He also took art (required) and got an A--this from a kid who had delays in his fine motor skills as a small child and never considered himself much of an artist.

Some of Chris' art in the spring art show
 
Playing drums in the Jesuit band
Toward the end of school, they had an awards assembly during which every student received an award from one of their teachers. These were carefully crafted and individual to each person, praising their strengths. Chris received one from his math teacher, who called us after school started to let us know how much she enjoyed having Chris in her class (imagine!) and that she wanted to move him up to the next level.
Receiving his award (looking embarassed!)



With the cast of "Singing in the Rain"
Next year Chris plans to be on the LINK team, which welcomes new students to the school, and he will also serve on Student Council. These types of small-group leadership opportunities are another reason why we wanted to send him to Edison.

Another selfish reason Mike and I like Edison is that we get to hang out with our close friends Lynn and Jolie, who we met when our sons played t-ball together (in first grade)!


With our friends at the
 school auction this spring

At the end of the school year, returning students have to write a letter to the admissions committee, explaining why they want to return to Edison the next year. We were touched by Chris' letter, which articulated why he has come to love this school and this community. This is what he wrote:

"I am writing this letter to state my intention to return to Edison in the fall. I think that Edison has greatly increased my self-awareness of my learning disorder, and that I have a greatly expanded social life here at Edison. I think that being at Edison has also improved my academics; my Cs in math have turned into As and Bs. Every single person, myself included, brings something new to school every day, so I feel accepted by each and every one of my peers. I'm a welcoming, optimistic, accepting student, who does the best work he can, and finishes with a smile whatever the outcome.


While at Edison, I've maintained a good GPA. Once I was weaned off my seizure medication, I learned how to work without it, and I became much more active and free, allowing me to express myself and not worry. This, combined with the feel-good atmosphere of Edison, makes me feel alive and able to enjoy life to the fullest. At Edison, I've kept a much more positive attitude than before, and I have more time to balance out my homework. I also play in the Jesuit band, and I'm in the Jesuit drama program as well.


I enjoy attending school here because I feel like I've accomplished something over my LD (ADD) which is due in part to the small class sizes and individual attention I get from every teacher. I no longer have to worry about straining to hold my hand up while the teacher walks around the room. I also think Edison has helped me become a better person socially; I no longer feel like a kid who is trying to find his place in the world. I now feel accepted; every single person at Edison has a learning difference, and it makes me feel like I'm part of one big, happy family. Finally, I feel that at a bigger school like Wilson, I would've fared worse socially and academically. Edison gives me a fresh start, and it is truly an amazing school.


Thank you for your time and consideration."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Retiring from a career dedicated to teaching children

Our children have been blessed with so many wonderful teachers over the years. Chris and Kieran have been lucky to share a few teachers along the way, in kindergarten, second grade, and next year in fourth grade.
I will never forget the first time we got to know Renay...Mike used to organize the school book sale, and as we were setting up beforehand, the teachers would come and have the first pick of the books. Renay came to shop and we started talking and discovered a shared love of books. A few days later, we were in the Cannon Beach Book Company, and we ran into her there--she was on a retreat with her book group. I had high hopes, after those two incidents, that she would be Chris' teacher, and we were right!

When she taught Chris in second grade, she had planned to retire a few years later. We wished desperately that she would still be around when Kieran reached second grade. Fortunately for us she decided to postpone her retirement and last year, and Kieran got to be in her class. But this year, it finally happened. Our family's beloved teacher retired, and the school celebrated her career.

Receiving her award
First up, she received the Portland PTA Teacher of the Year Award (nominated by families at the school). What a way to go off into the sunset! I felt very lucky to be invited to the banquet and get to see Renay (who hates public speaking) receive her award and give a great speech!

With her kids, staff, and school volunteers

With Maplewood colleagues

Love this photo but wish it weren't so blurry!

With second-grader Chris

And second grader Kieran
Renay has been such a supporter of our kids' activities--
she's come to countless of Kieran's performances, and Chris' too!
This is from the last performance of Kieran's Hullabaloo,
with his third grade teacher and her husband as well as Renay's niece
On the last day I sang with the kids (I've been going into Renay's class the last two years to sing with the kids), we debuted a song I wrote for her retirement. (Part of why I volunteered in her classroom for two years in a row was selfish...I have always loved being around her and seeing her interactions with children.) I consulted other parents and her colleagues for ideas, and they sent me all sorts of wonderful anecdotes about their children's relationships and memories of Renay. I used these treasures to write a song to the tune of "Waltzing Mathilda" (her favorite song). (One of the second-grade moms wrote the second verse after revealing a fondness for writing lyrics!) The kids practiced at home and I recruited the third graders to help, and we surprised her the Friday before the last day of school.

Receiving her gift certificate
The wonderful Maplewood community, many of whom had children in Renay's classes or teachers who worked with her, came together to raise funds to give her a trip to Hawaii. I will never forget the look in her eyes as the luau-themed classroom was full of families, friends, and colleagues (including our current and former principals). She was truly speechless. Everyone in the room was delighted to be able to give her a gift that she truly deserved after so many hours of teaching our children. Mollie, one of the second-grade moms, was determined to "go big," and man did they go big!!

Then we sang her song again. Here is the song, which reflects the individual care and attention she gave to each child in her class, and the unique love she had for teaching. And man was it impossible to make it through this song without crying!!

Who’ll Come A’Learnin? (for Renay Schaeffer)


1. Once a special teacher worked at a Portland school
Under the shade of a Maplewood tree
And she sang as she taught and changed the lives of children here
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me?

Chorus:
Reading our stories, learning subtraction
Balance and motion, and spinning with glee
And she sang as she taught and changed the lives of children here
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me?

2. Often jolly leprechauns sprang up near that Portland school
Looking for gold in the Maplewood tree
The teacher and the children kindly trapped the leprechauns
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me? (Chorus)

Chorus:

Reading our stories, learning subtraction
Balance and motion, and spinning with glee
The teacher and children kindly trapped the leprechauns
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me?

3. Sitting in the PTA, meetings stretching after work
Getting new carpets for story time
Customizing learning plans, tailoring to every child
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me? (Chorus)

Chorus:

Reading our stories, learning subtraction
Balance and motion, and spinning with glee
Customizing learning plans, tailoring to every child
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me?

4. Trekking off on field trips, studying the sun and rain
Yoga and xylophone to calm things down
Laughing and smiling, showing endless patience
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me? (Chorus)

Chorus:

Reading our stories, learning subtraction
Balance and motion, and spinning with glee
Laughing and smiling, showing endless patience
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me?

5. Piggy banks and story hats, studying the animals
Loving her students and parents too
Seeing the beauty in each and every precious child
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me? (Chorus)

Chorus:

Reading our stories, learning subtraction
Balance and motion, and spinning with glee
Seeing the beauty in each and every precious child
Who’ll come a’learnin, my children, with me?

6. Now this gentle teacher’s career has traveled to an end
We’ll never be the same again, will we?
Children, parents, teachers, we’re all so sad to see her go
We’ll love Mrs. Schaeffer forever, won’t we?

Chorus:

Reading our stories, learning subtraction
Balance and motion, and spinning with glee
Children, parents, teachers, we’re all so sad to see her go
We’ll love Mrs. Schaeffer forever, won’t we?

That last verse is the one that gets me every time. I'm so happy for her that she gets to retire (and wait for granchildren), but our school will never be the same without her. We feel so blessed that we got two years with her!

Singing with Marie, second year

For the second year, I spent my Friday mornings volunteering at Kieran's elementary school, singing with the kids. I started this when the school lost its music teacher because of budget cuts. Last year I sang with Kieran's second-grade class, and this year I sang with his third-grade class and also with the second-grade class taught by the wonderful Renay Schaeffer. It was her last year of teaching (she taught both Kieran and Chris), so I told her I would continue singing with her class if she'd have me.

I found it fascinating to move from second grade to third grade in a half hour. The second-grade class was quite big (28), while the third-grade class had only 21. About half of the kids in Kieran's class sang with me last year, so that made learning songs much easier. Their reading fluency also made it easier. Next year I'll have to have two different sets of songs...one for pre-reading or early-reading kindergarteners.

Last year on the final day, the kids gave me wonderfully illustrated cards and the parents gave me a flowering basket. This year we gathered the two classes together for a final singalong, and I brought my personal percussionist (who has accompanied me when he's been off school on occasional Fridays, and the kids love him!), in addition to a few singers (Mike and Nick).


With my favorite drummer (drumming on a chair)

Mike singing with gusto while holding five-year-old

Second and third graders together
Here are a sampling of the great cards and letters they gave me this year (along with a Marco's gift certificate--yum!)...these personal messages are a highlight of my volunteer experience!! I love to see what they think I look like! :)





I just might have to write Audrey a note
to answer her question about pets and my favorite book!



Several of them mentioned Chris!

This one cracks me up...blue lips and a buzzcut!!
Not sure what the orange fish are doing on my shoulders...

Love the pig nose!


Oh, so sweet!
She "relly, relly, relly" likes me!

Second graders are good for your ego. :)

Check out those eyelashes!




Eyelash extensions!
And look at the sweet heart necklace...

I feel bad that I won't be singing with these kids next year--
but instead will offer to sing in Nick's kindergarten class and Kieran's 4th grade class








I wonder if these two were sitting next
to each other as they were drawing (see above)?

"I like that you smile every time."


Don't I look glamorous!?






 And from the third graders:



"I like you coming to have us sing. It builds character." :)





Appreciating the days I have left of Kieran
appreciating me coming into his classroom!!
 
"Do you wish that people were not so disruptive? I do."
That Annika (one of Kieran's buddies) cracks me up!




Card from Renay (the second grade teacher)
I get just as much benefit as the kids do on Friday mornings. When I'm doing music with them, all of my other concerns are far, far away. And nothing warms my heart more than hearing them sing some of my childhood favorite songs with gusto!

See you next year, kiddos!

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