Monday, December 24, 2012

The Beginning of the World...

So Friday December 21, 2012 came and went. It was the day before vacation. At Charlton Heights, kids came to school in their pajamas. Some “read the day away.” Some cooked food that helped them to bring cultural stories to life. At O’Rourke Mrs. Shell's students acted out the trial scene from “To Kill a Mockingbird.” At the High School Madame Noll's kids translated French carols. A group of talented individuals played the role of various 18th Century giants of philosophy, economics, and religion as part of Mr. Turner's Enlightenment Dinner.  At Stevens Elementary, kids made personal gifts to give to parents and other loved ones. At Pashley, they practiced carols and gathered as a whole school in the cafeteria to sing together with their teachers and celebrate their school spirit and the coming Holiday.

The Mayans predicted the world would end on Friday. The events of previous weeks seemed to reinforce the impending doom. The days were at their darkest… Both on the calendar and in current events.  Our community lost an Olympic hero. Neighboring districts lost beloved students in a senseless accident. Tragedy in Connecticut tore at our hearts. Fears arose over school security. The media battered us with endless political bickering over the “fiscal cliff.” Like our ancestors who noticed the daylight diminishing and the cold creeping in, it was tempting to let the events around us darken our days and diminish our hope…

and yet, when the Grinch put his hand to his ear…
he DID hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low.  Then it started to grow...  
But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn't be so! But it WAS merry!  VERY!         
He stared down at Who-ville!        
The Grinch popped his eyes!        
Then he shook!        
What he saw was a shocking surprise! 
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing! 
Without any presents at all! 
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same! -Dr. Seuss                                 

Friday we learned that the world would not end.  Saturday morning brought a dusting of snow and a sense of peace as BH-BL regrouped with families and loved ones to celebrate the holidays and prepare for the New Year. The world is not ending... In fact, for our kids- the world is just beginning…

Let’s not forget how critical that message is. The world… for our kids… is just beginning. To counter the doom and gloom they are bombarded with by society, we offer them knowledge… we offer them inspiration… we offer them hope.  Each day, when they sit in our classrooms, walk in our hallways, ride our buses, eat in our cafeterias and play on our teams… we remind them that they can be anything, do anything, change anything that they set their minds and their energies to. Winning State Championships, competing for science awards, and performing in incredible concerts are just a taste of what can lie ahead!

The celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas were placed in the calendar here in late December to remind us that, in the midst of the darkest days of the year, there is light… there is hope… Faith, optimism, and love, all unique to the human spirit,  take us through the toughest times together. As we head into a brand new year, the days are getting longer. The daylight is increasing. It is our job to bring that same message of light and hope to our kids.

Thank you for welcoming me into the BH-BL community these past six months. Enjoy this Holiday time with your families. As we return in January, lets hope that the darkest days are behind us. The days are growing brighter. The world of the students looking at us each day is just beginning. My hope and prayer for all of us in 2013 is captured in the lyrics of the Goo Goo Dolls song Better Days…

And you asked me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
'cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words and sing out loud
'cause everyone is forgiven now
'cause tonight's the night the world begins again

I need some place simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And that's faith and trust and peace while we're alive
And the one poor child who saved this world
And there's ten million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

Here’s to a world that begins again in 2013…

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jump Forward One Year...

Often when we come to a big holiday like Thanksgiving, I find myself thinking back to the circumstances of my life one year earlier...  If, back then, I could have jumped forward to today... or caught a glimpse of myself today...would I be surprised?  What will the coming year bring?... Last Thanksgiving, I might have been surprised if I caught a glimpse of myself spending the Tuesday of this Thanksgiving week sitting in the basement dining room of a homeless shelter!

Tuesday morning I had the privilege of accompanying a group of eleven 8th graders to Bethesda House on State Street in Schenectady as part of O'Rourke's 8th Grade Community Service Day. We spent a couple of hours in the basement of this facility that provides safe-haven, assistance, and hospitality to people in need. Our kids decorated the dining room for the holidays, taking great pride to put up a tree and hang garland and lights throughout. When we finished early, we sat in a quiet corner of the room and talked together about the students' impressions of the shelter. What surprised them? What services did the facility provide? What circumstances might lead someone, perhaps a young person, to seek help here? We talked about service in broader terms- Why serve and help others? What experiences have they had? Where can they help?

It was a great, mature, insightful conversation, led by Eileen Lofthouse, who chaperoned the group with myself and a parent. Once again our kids inspired me. They spoke of service in their families and neighborhoods, through their chuches, in the community, and around their school. Their most common reaction to Bethesda House was one of surprise at how open and friendly the people were to us as we worked there.  I think they were genuinely aware that people there were hurting, and that in some small way they were bringing some hope. We talked for close to an hour. As we rode home on the bus, back up to BH-BL, I thought about how that experience might bring a new depth, a new insight to our students as they talked about what they were thankful for around their family dinner tables this week.

This opportunity was made possible by the work of retired library media specialist Marge Rizzo and teacher Joyce Brown. This year they mentored Lindsay Armbruster and Melissa Buyce in all of the myriad of details that helps the day to run without a hitch. Every eighth-grader was able to participate in a service opportunity. Small groups went out into all corners of the community, volunteering at Animal Protective, Ballston Community Library, Town of Ballston, Baptist Retirement Center, Bethesda House, City Mission, Clover Patch, Crossroads Center for Children, Dayhaven, Glendale Home, Glenville Senior Center, Headstart, K-Care, Maplewood Manor, Montessori School, Newmeadow School, Northeast Parent and Child, Parkside YMCA, Parsons, Salvation Army, Schenectady ARC, Schenectady Inner City Ministry Food Pantry, and the YWCC as well as helping with some in-house projects for Children's Hospital at AMC and Ronald McDonald House. The transportation department handled the drop-off and pick-ups smoothly and efficiently. Supervision was handled by staff and parent volunteers, and overseen by Principal Colleen Wolff.  It was truly an impressive undertaking. Thank you so much to all involved. You gave our kids a gift.

A year ago, I would not have predicted that I would be here at BH-BL today. As I prepare sit around our Thanksgiving table with Denise and my four kids- Ben, Josh, Sara, and Caleb- I am very thankful for all of you. Thanks for welcoming me into this organization, for showing me the ropes, and for repeating your names as I get to know you! Thanks most of all for the great job you do with our kids!  They continue to inspire me, as you inspire them. Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 9, 2012

They get it...

I was sitting in Tim Brunson's office in the high school first thing Thursday morning. As we were talking, I noticed members of the high school Student Government Organization (SGO) working with the custodians and Concert Band members to set up an activity in the circle in front of the High School. I learned that the SGO was preparing the annual Veterans Day Ceremony.  I wasn't sure if I had time to stay for it.  I had to run home and I knew I was cutting it close to make it to the Ed. Council meeting down at Hostetter. I ran home and returned to town as fast as I could. As I sat at the light at Lakehill and 50, I debated turning right and getting down to my office and to the meeting on time. However, amidst a week filled with elections and national politics, and a day ahead filled with meetings and paperwork, something told me to go back to the high school and attend the ceremony. I am so glad I did.

It was a simple ceremony. As I walked up to the circle, the band had just begun playing. The notes of America the Beautiful were blown throughout the otherwise silent circle by a chilly breeze. They disappeared up into a stark November sky. Seated in the middle of the circle, near the monument, were about 30 veterans from our school and community.  Judging from their uniforms, patches, and badges, I could see that they represented most of the branches and all of the various wars and conflicts back to and including WWII.  Standing silently two or three deep around the outside of the circle were about 200 members of our senior class.

There was a bit of grassy distance between the students and the veterans- and that distance seemed appropriate... Maybe it was the feeling that the kids were forming a large circle of support...?  Or maybe it was more the image of their respect and admiration for what these men and women represented, a sense of not daring to come too close to a group of individuals whose bravery and willingness to serve others represent the best in all of us...?  In either case, that feeling of support and respect was reinforced as we pledged the Flag, listened to our National Anthem, and reflected on what our veterans have done for us.  Every last student listened attentively as the ceremony- entirely run by the SGO Officers- concluded with a list of the names of our veterans and the details of their enlistment.

And then came the part that I wasn't expecting... as the final song was playing, the seniors broke rank, stepped out of the circle, and began to file across the grass to shake hands and thank the veterans. There was something about this that really affected me.  This is our future generation setting an example.  They get it. Still with one foot in the carefree world of being a kid, the other foot is stepping out into the beginning their own adult lives. As they walked across the grass to greet the veterans... and as the vets rose (or moved their wheelchairs forward) to meet them- I had a profound feeling that this whole scene was just... just right...just the kind of thing a school ought to be doing.

Thanks to the Veterans for your service, and for attending. You continue to give an invaluable gift to our kids. Thanks to Renee Tolan, Todd Bucci, Maryellen Symer, and the SGO officers for organizing this opportunity. Thanks to Peter Giroux and the Concert Band for the great music. Thanks to Brad Thomas for broadcasting and getting the ceremony out to the rest of the school.

Finally, thanks to the Senior Class for inspiring me on Thursday. We have just come through an intense election. Like many people, I have followed politics closely these last few months.  We see cynicism, negativity and division on all sides at the national level. We know there are budget concerns and frustrations that affect all of us at the state level.... But here at the local level- here at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School-  we saw things the way they should be. In a simple way, you showed class, respect, and a depth of understanding that spoke volumes on a quiet November morning. You made those men and women who have served our country feel appreciated and welcomed. Thank you for that. I'm proud to be a Spartan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Practicing What We Teach

On Opening Day, I mentioned that one of the aspects of thriving was being ALIVE- tapping into the things we are passionate about and looking to spark a similar passion in our students. A few examples of this involve student and teacher authors within our own district... 

One of our High School English teachers, Eric Devine, was recently featured in an interview on WNYT in which he discussed the release of his second young adult novel entitled Tap Out.  When I watched this interview, I couldn't stop thinking about what a great model it was for Eric's English students. 

In fact, one of the first times I visited BH-BL High School, Chris Gangemi introduced herself to me in the lobby and beamed with pride over the collection of books that some of our 9th and 10th graders had written and published. An entire collection of these books was on display in the high school lobby showcase.  I remember thinking to myself how great it must make those kids feel to know that they created something so tangible and unique to themselves. I have no doubt that other students are inspired to write themselves as they pass by that showcase and see that collection.

Over the summer I received a copy of a book entitled: Sincerely written by current BH-BL eleventh grader Erin Billings. Sincerely tells the story of a teen, Lucy, who is bullied and made fun of because of a disability.  Using Lucy's diary entries, the author shows how the teen struggles through the harassment and ultimately stands up to her bully. (Erin's book is available on Amazon and it would be really cool if it fit into a class or anti-bullying initiative within the district.)

These examples- while they each happen to be related to writing- remind us of a larger point: Anytime we can bring relevance and authenticity to the things we ask students to do, we will spark interest and passion among them. We instantly answer the question "Why do we have to learn this?" We help them to understand how it all fits together.  I would love to learn more about (and share) the ways that our faculty and staff weave their own passions and interests into the work they ask of their students. Feel free to comment below! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to school and welcome to Spartan Thinking! I will use this blog to share ideas, questions, resources and information periodically throughout the year. I will always send out a link to the district to let you know when a new post has been made, although you can subscribe to the blog and be notified automatically of new posts in a number of ways.  I will also be asking some of you to guest blog here as well. If there is something that is on your mind and you think it may positively benefit our school community, feel free to drop me a line...

Opening Day- I wanted to follow-up on the opening day assembly with some resources and a few quick words of thanks...

First of all, thanks to Christy Multer for her tireless work behind the scenes. I know that it was driving Christy crazy that I didn't have my remarks in to her last week! Her attention to detail is incredible. Many people may not realize the kind of time and energy Christy puts into this Opening Day- and every initiative she gets involved with.  Her passion and love for this district is contagious. Thanks Christy!

Thanks to Kate Gurley and the entire Opening Day Committee as well... Tim, Ellen, and Nick Sinnenberg made organizing the music a family affair! Thanks to the kids and faculty who helped out with the song.  Thanks also to John Capano, Ann-Marie Mueller, and Chris Lombardi for organizing the technology and audio to go off without a hitch. Thanks to Chris Abdoo for making the trip to recognize our long-tenured staff. Finally thanks to Rick all of the introductions and for way that he has provided a solid and encouraging consistency throughout this whole transition period.

Here are a few resources from this morning:

Poll Everywhere- the polling site. You can embed the polls into powerpoint, websites, or Prezis. Accounts are free for polls of up to 40 respondents at a time.

Prezi- The Zooming Presentation Editor- site just keeps getting better all the time... its cloud based, so it archives all of your presentations online. It takes a little investment of time to watch the trainign videos and stuff, but i could see teachers developing some really cool interactive lessons with this. And they are all available online to your students outside of class. They have an educator plan that you apply for and you will get a lot of extras. 

Spark Institute- - This was an interesting site I came across the other day and mentioned today. It talks specifically about helping kids (and adults) find their spark... their passion... the interest, joy, or activity that really inspires and excites you. Might be worth a look.

Here are the two videos i mentioned that should really inspire us to STRIVE:

Finally.. i thought you might enjoy seeing a Word Cloud of where we all vacationed this summer. This was generated in using the answers you gave to question #1.  (The larger the word, the more it was used in the answers given.)

I hope you have a great start to the 2012-12 School Year!