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.