Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Meeting a new friend in the world of writing...

Of all places, Syracuse, New York. 

If I can have a literary son, I like to think it is Kwame Alexander. Hard worker; truth seeker; soul sharer. —Nikki Giovanni (below, with Kwame)

I arrived to the NYSRA simply to present with a wonderful teacher, Rhiannon Berry, and to see my family. Then Sandy hit. I was stranded and campus was cancelled. So, I stayed a little longer. Rhiannon, who attended Kwame Alexander's workshops after we co-presented, somehow arranged for the two of us to do a presentation at Liverpool High School. The two of us met yesterday morning at the hotel, drove to Liverpool and introduced ourselves, then realized we had a lot in common. Later, we went to a mall and learned more about writing, teaching, crafting and literacy. I'm pretty pumped about two YA books Kwame has coming out in 2014. It is pretty exciting work and it was rather coincidental to work with him all day. 

I would not have guessed this event in my short stay in CNY, especially as CT hurts. Ah, but it was a good thing to have happened. Kwame studied with Nikki Giovanni who I've admired from afar for many, many years (since I was 19). Her compliment of his work is well deserved and the family grows larger. Kelly Chandler-Olcott mentored Rhiannon Berry, I coached her while student teaching, and Rhiannon introduces me to Kwame today. Small world. Enormous possibilities.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

While Sandy...well, was Sandy...

I was in upstate New York presenting at the New York State Reading Association Conference. After we finished our work I noticed a yellow SUV with Ripley Central School on the side. Had to pose.

The Monday winds came off and on throughout the day and while heading off to sleep, they intensified form the north. Watching videos of the Long Island Sound, however, has me a bit nervous for all my new peeps in Connecticut. If this site is dedicated to a year in the new state, then I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge how scary the events are as winds kick and water rises. I grew more nervous, too, when fewer and fewer people were update Facebook. There were notes like "Lights flickering," then wola! it ended. I just hope everyone is safe. Bottom line and point blank.

And Tuesday morning? Well, it will be a morning of daylight highlighting destruction. Fingers crossed, CT...fingers crossed.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Carved my first pumpkin ever last night...

...and somewhat enjoyed it, too.

Rhiannon Berry said, "There's no way you've never carved a pumpkin," but I am pretty sure I haven't. I've seen them. I'm sure my family had pumpkins. Yet, carving them? Nope.

KC and Dave had me, Werdi, Abdi and his cousins over for lasagna and carving. I asked KC if we carved as kids and she had no memory of this. She asked, "Can you imagine how stressed out mom and dad would be about taking on such a chore?" I know we dyed Easter Eggs and put up a Christmas Tree, but the pumpkins. Drawing a blank.

I actually enjoyed the process of carving. Once everyone gave up on the slicing and stickiness of it all, I liked chiseling and fine tuning the artwork to make it candle-ready. We tested them all with the only candle KC could find - a Yankee, vanilla-scented one. We did alright for ourselves.

To top it off? Apple Crisp over vanilla ice cream for dessert. That is one of my favorite dishes in the world to eat. Funny that we didn't make pumpkin pie. Funnier that I didn't take a picture of the jack-o-lanterns once they were lit.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Well, Sandy. John Travolta's excited about you.

Because she's the one that he wants, ooo ooo.

Alright. I feel compelled to write about the hurricane on the day where her fate is finally revealed. I'm in Syracuse at a literacy conference and the weather channel is basically creating a state of emergency, end-of-the-world scenario for Connecticut. Mom looked to me and said, "Basically, they're calling for Connecticut to be demolished."

Consequently, Fairfield has cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday. She will learn today, Sunday, however, exactly where Sandy will arrive over night and where the greatest impact will be felt.

There is, of course, the reality that she might take a sharp turn to the right and flee out into the Atlantic. Only one model of the 100s being consulted predict this, however.

We shall see and this makes for an interesting scenario. The coast of Connecticut has been mandated to leave the shoreline. Two hurricanes in one year makes for interesting times.

And only time will tell.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!
I'm overdoing the JibJab world but I'm loving is too much not to share more of it. Bryan's blog. Bryan's Aletha.

She's a poet teacher in Louisville who I miss immensely. When we were younger and full of more oomph and spirit, we shot the milkway with purple magic. The video captures all the years we had together and connections we had whenever or wherever we could - it was corny like this, but time and distance finishes the story in a different way.

I made it safely to Syracuse and will await news on how Sandy arrives to the northeast.
Not much happened on my drive into NY other than several drivers who insisted on driving under the speed limit while coasting side by side of one another. They didn't see the lines they created in their rearview mirror. Even so, I made good timing.

Happy Saturday.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Who knows? Maybe I should soak in ice more.

Diet Pepsi and Weight Watchers are two ideas that sum up my childhood. I think of them as synonymous with dinners in Cherry Heights, conversations with my sisters and my mom, and the packaging seen in the fridge.


Well, we had a dieting household, although Butch never seemed to care about what he ingested.

Last night, I read a twenty page paper by an undergraduate about his obsession with perfect health and a stellar body. In high school, he held the record for bench pressing and now, as an upperclassmen in Connecticut, he's trying to master his physical being by reading as much as he can about diet, muscle training, and mind control. He wrote an engaging piece about thermodynamics and the importance of ice baths and cooling the body. I think it makes sense, although this guy won't do it.

I know that Lopez Lomong was iced while training for the Olympics and that athletic departments have ice tubs as part of their regimen. There seems to be truth to maneuvering metabolism by playing with body temperature and if you google ice bath you will see it is much more common than one would think (more than soaking a swollen ankle). It seems a frigid bath works against fat and helps to build muscle, too.

Am I convinced? I don't need to be. Seems to make sense. Will I soak tonight as a frozen popsicle? Doubtful. I'd rather have a hot shower with lots of steam.

And I readily admit, I envy anyone who zestfully pursues the body of a God or Goddess. For me, there's just way too much humor in trying. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Another way to procrastinate in Connecticut....

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!
I decided to invest in a year's worth of Jib Jab cards simply because they crack me up and it humors me that something so silly can waste so much time. I've always envied people who could remember birthdays and holidays and get a card into the mail. Not me. That is why I am thinking that I might be better about digital cards like this. We shall see. I may have wasted a little too much time on my little sister's birthday uploading photographs so a Time Warp could be send. And now, look at this...It's Thursday already. And I didn't even use the one I sent to her as an example. Oi Vay.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

MidWeek Rhythm...

This sketched in class in Bridgeport that was debating about the responsibilities of rap lyrics. At one point the teacher asked students to write what rap is my response (followed by a video the teacher showed the students).

What is rap?

It might be dap
it could be crap,
the words insane, my mind is strapped,
a tree’s sticky sap,
as I recap what I kidnap in the hubcap of the universe.

we all rehearse.
these $#%#$ do curse,
it’s in your purse -
rap is the only verse until we’re in the hearse on our way out.

Rap is real
Rap’s surreal
We spit out game
your verse is lame,
articulating spit, the mic supreme

It might be swo,
these words, you know,
but while we're alive,
we rap to survive,
each of us on a drive of survival…

we gotta rap until the arrival of our end….
while we’re here, we gotta rap and blend our ideas
in the symphony of everything….

so for now we rap, in poetry we sing.­­

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's Tuesday. I Need Music To Kick Start My Day.

So, It's Come On, Eileen by Dixie's Midnight Runners (as referenced last Friday after viewing The Perks of Being a Wallflower). I did too much thinking over the weekend and my brain is fried. I simply need memory music to get me through this week. I'm sure we can dance to this in Connecticut, New York, Kentucky or wherever I am.

"Come On Eileen"

(Come On Eileen)
(Come On Eileen)

Poor old Johnny Ray
Sounded sad upon the radio
But he moved a million hearts in mono
Our mothers cried
Sang along
Who'd blame them
You've grown, so grown
Now I must say more than ever
(Come On Eileen)
Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye
And we can sing just like our fathers

Come on Eileen
Oh, I swear what he means (what he means)
At this moment you mean everything
You in that dress
My thoughts I confess
Verge on dirty
Oh, come on Eileen

(Come On Eileen)

These people round here
Wear beaten down eyes sunk
In smoke dried faces
They're so resigned to what their fate is
But not us (no not ever)
But not us (not ever)
We are far too young and clever
Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye
And you'll hum this tune forever

Come on Eileen
Oh, I swear what he means
Aah, come on let's
Take off everything
That pretty red dress
Eileen (tell him yes)
Aah, come on let's
Aah, come on Eileen

That pretty red dress
Eileen (tell him yes)
Aah, come on let's
Aah, come on Eileen

Come on Eileen, too-rye-aye
Come on Eileen, too-rye-aye
Now you're full grown
Now you have shown
Oh, Eileen

Say, come on Eileen
These things they are real and I know
How you feel
Now I must say more than ever
Things round here have changed
I say, too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye-aye

Come on Eileen
Oh, I swear (what he means)
At this moment, you mean everything
You in that dress, my thoughts I confess
Which are dirty
Aah, come on Eileen

Aah, come on Eileen
Oh, I swear (what he means)
At this moment, you mean everything
You in that dress, my thoughts I confess
Well, they're dirty
Come on Eileen

Come on Eileen...

Monday, October 22, 2012

This week...Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

I finished Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson last night before I went to bed. I read it once before, but not with the framework that I would teach it to students. Having the responsibility of teaching the important, young adult novel has me somewhat silenced. The subject is real and, as an educator, such violation made itself known through the writing of many students. It also strikes my interest that the young adult novel is set in Syracuse (and is loosely based on Fayetteville-Manlius High School where my nephews may one day attend). Additionally, Laurie Halse Anderson, the author, lives near Phoenix/Mexico - an area of CNY that I used to love visiting during apple season.

My first year at Fairfield University I taught a student who went to school with Phoebe Prince, the girl who committed suicide after being bullied at her school. Her small community of Hadley, Massachusetts was turned upside down by the cyberbullying, and I couldn't help but think of Phoebe Prince as I reread Halse's novel. Written in 1999, my second year with a classroom in Louisville, Kentucky, Speak is a text that speaks about rape, violation, the innocence of freshmen, and the mental anguish caused by a crime when it goes unspoken. I've always been conscious of how young women and men label some girls as slut, bitch, and whore. For me, it is a word we should politicize in our classrooms in campaigns like those that interrogate the "R" and "N" words. We should speak against verbal terrorism and those who use such words with hatred should be stopped immediately.

I realize I am quiet about how to go about teaching this book, however, because the subject, although fiction, is real (Syracuse was also a home for Alice Sebold who shared her similar story in Lucky). I will teach an interview with Anderson from the Syracuse Post Standard where she addresses how her books have been censored in schools and I will also cover alarming statistics -  numbers that quantify the reality of this book.

AND I will be angry while teaching this book because the story was too often qualified for me by students while I was a teacher. It should never be silenced and hopefully, this week in class, we will be tough enough to plant a few seeds like Melinda Sordino so that others will speak against such violation.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

It's True. Stephen King's childhood was in Stratford, CT!

This post is for my mother.

Last night, while trying to turn off the computer, I worked my way through 86 emails sent to me during the day. One of them was from a teacher I admire in Connecticut who learned I ended up in Stratford. She said, "Oh, Stephen King lived there during his childhood, and he refers to it often for inspiration for his novels."

What? Stratford, Connecticut. Stephen King. How did no one tell me this?

One of the reasons I feel I am a reader is because my mother curled up on the couch to read Stephen King. She was mesmerized by him. She couldn't get enough. She talked about The Stand before I even knew how intellectually brilliant the novel actually was. In high school, when my teachers were squawking about literature none of us wanted to read, I discovered copies of Stephen King novels in the dresser of the hallway. I first read Night Shift from this collection and remember having to finish the book downstairs with my father sleeping on a couch. No one else was home and I couldn't read the book alone. I needed someone with me even if he was sleeping.

But it's true, Mom. Stephen King grew up where I currently live.

And I laugh. In college, the elitist professors talked about Stephen King as being low brow art and insignificant literature. Then I met Alice who taught The Stand in Sociology and, as a thirty something year old, I read it for the first time. Wow. Stephen King is brilliant. Who decides what is brilliant anyway? What politics come with such statements?

Here's proof, however, that he walked the same streets I do. This, from him, reflecting on It.

"A year passed. The yo-yo stayed down as the end of its string, sleeping, and then it came back up. I started to remember Stratford, Connecticut, where I had lived for a time as a kid. In Stratford there was a library where the adult section and the children's section was connected by a short corridor. I deciced that the corridor was also a bridge, one across which every goat of a child must risk trip-trapping to become an adult. About six months later I thought of how such a story might be cast; how it might be possible to create a ricochet effect, interweaving the stories of children and the adults they become. Sometime in the summer of 1981 I realized that I had to write about the troll under the bridge or leave him - IT - forever"

That from Stephen King's website. Wow. From Syracuse (mom), to Louisville (Alice) to Stratford (Stephen King). 

This is my favorite Connecticut discovery yet.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dear You, Because I felt infinite yesterday.

I am writing to you because, if you know me, you will realize that I once discovered a book published by MTV and it was a book by Stephen Chbosky called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. You will know I lived with Erin at the time and she didn't care that I ignored her, because I looked happy on my Pee Wee Herman couch cuddled up in a ball and I was reading a tiny book that was yellow and was stopped, for a moment, in the pace of the universe that has trapped me like Sisyphus with a boulder upon a hill.

I shared the book, too. In fact, I asked a turtle to come out of his shell and wondered if a dragonfly might like to meet Charlie. Soon, a rabbit came, followed by a deer, a crow, a worm, a cricket, a rainbowfish, a gold fish, a squid, a starfish, an a.c. sprite, an owl, some pond scum, a crane, a chicadee, a lady bug, a mosquito, a purple iris, a wood nymph, a duck, a swan, a hawk, a butterfly, and 100s of more creatures. I was told not to teach this book, so I stopped, but still kids found ways to read it and they did read it and they passed it on to others. Parents contacted me and wanted a book club so they could read the book, too, and they didn't think it was a believable story and they wondered why kids loved it so much. I felt guilty for letting parents into the world of the young people I once knew.

I fell in love with Sam. She may not be your Sam or the Sam you created in your head or even the Sam that you never got around to imagining, but she was my Sam and she was in my head, and I knew exactly who she should be. I'm not sure it was Emma Watson, but I am happy by the choice because yesterday, all alone in a theater inside a mall while the rain poured down on Connecticut, I finally saw the movie. Looking at the rows and rows of seats, empty, I realized I created myself a perfect moment to feel i n f i n i t e, too. I heard reviews from undergraduates and graduate students, but I didn't want to listen to them because that would be their thinking and I wanted my thinking to be fresh and to be real and to be beautiful like the first time I read the book. I saw the trailers and I prepared for a disappointment but I went, anyway, because nothing should be judged by its cover and because I wanted a moment, for myself, where I could once again feel the magic of teaching that I once knew.

I  was Bill - perhaps I still am - and I believe in the power of young people to express exactly who they want to be and I handed books to my students encouraging them not to give up and I kept reading books to find more answers because even though I was a teacher I didn't think I ever had any of the answers and I would say things like, "They say pain makes you beautiful and that is why so many of us in this world are simply gorgeous."  I listened to my students and I wrote back to them and they wrote back to me and I read everything they wrote and everything they wrote made perfect sense in a swirl of brown utopia until nirvana was squashed and, at least for that moment, I needed to move on. A frog left a best friend, an owl, and she was smart enough, like always, to let him leap away.

And I did. I lept.

But The Perks of Being a Wallflower came with me and I handed it out from time to time to people I knew would love it. My mom read it, my older sister read it, and tomorrow I will send it to my niece who is a junior (and I know I once taught juniors and loved that grade because it was a perfect age to realize that words matter and that the world is extremely complicated but everything will be okay).

Today is the official National Day on Writing and I'm counting my blessings that the Great Whatever stopped my routine and whispered while I woke up, "Take a day away from life and do what you want to do."

I did. And that made all the difference.

I will play Come on, Eileen by the Dixie's Midnight Runner a couple of times and dance with the memories of my adolescent years: my friends, my sisters, my years at Binghamton University, and my parents and match them with my teaching days in Kentucky, my research days in Syracuse, my new life in Connecticut and the need for all of us to feel a part of the world.

I will remember. I may cry. But I most definitely will smile.

Thank you, Stephen Chbosky...on so many levels. A book. A road. And a community.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Write I, Why? #WhatIWrite

because i am.
because i once was.
because someday i also will be.

to be free
to be me
to existentially & poetically find serenity 
in the complexity of having life
(even if, unsuccessfully, i've failed to woo a wife).

because i can
because i do
because i communicate with you
& because i want to know what's true
(but that I also love to lie).
because i'm bry 
and it's another way to cry,
to      f     l    y,
and to try new things.

because i remember
and i dream
(while other times i SCREAM).

because i feel
because it's real
because it helps me seal a deal
of empowering the speck i am
in a universe of infinite possibilities
entangled with the simplicities of unraveling a Gordian knot.

because i'm full of snot and other icky things
and it pulls at my soul with delicate heartstrings...
because it offers me a round of second helpings
letting me leave scattered scarlet miniature red herrings
planted in notebooks as spiritual seedlings -
iced, almost daily, on cakes with delicious toppings.

because i do
because i did
because i will also one day be done.

because while i have each moment
i might as well have fun.

In Celebration of tomorrow's National Day on Writing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This is an inappropriate post, but it's where my mind is tonight.

The Dean of Education at Fairfield University in Connecticut said to me today, "The work we do is never easy. It's hard work and we should never fool ourselves otherwise."

She said this after I had an exhausting day of working with undergraduates, then teachers off campus, then graduate students. My issue at the moment is the extreme differences between the culture of university life and the culture of urban schools. In the world I believe in, every school in the United States should have the authority to treat every child as a curious, budding intellect with diverse thoughts, amazing potential, and irreplaceable promise. Sadly, I'm learning the structures in our systems deny teachers the right to offer kids the best education and that the extremities of poverty are virtually ignored by our political leaders (I wish the nation asked our presidential candidates the difficult questions two nights ago - these are questions about the vast inequities in our culture and how, alas, it is even hard for teachers bringing in two incomes to keep afloat. Some teachers work in environments where their income is 5 times that of the families they work with...they can't complain. Yet, they pace their homes wondering how they will send their own kids to college and pay their mortgage. I want to know how politicians can campaign as they do, with the money they spend, when the economic reality of most in our nation is nowhere near the flippant comfort their lives lead. The rich and ridiculous should not be in control of policies...and, frustrated, I feel both parties are guilty here).

So, why the blue toilet water? Well, today's sky was blue. I looked up and I realized a blue sky can make all the difference in the world. That's when I realized I also put blue dye in my toilet and that, too, makes me happy. Blue. the small things in life.

The extremes in this nation - college tuition equaling a year of a teacher's salary - coupled with the  constant reminders of wealth and poverty have me aggravated. In a four mile drive of where I live I go through nations of disparity and it makes no sense to me. Those of us negotiating the in-between see this and, I'm frustrated that I have no logical way of redoing the system.

But the sky...and my toilet

The colors of blue offer me hope. I love/to believe/in hope. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Wednesday in Honor of The National Day on Writing

The hats were my idea. We had to have fun, right? I owe a great round of applause to my administrative assistant, Lois, and graduate student, Stacey, for helping this day come into full focus. Over the weekend, I purchased materials to put into a writing basket for English teachers at Bassick High School and delivered these to the Connecticut Writing Project office. Lois, with her fine eye for craft, creativity and spark, arranged pens, writing notebooks, chips, chocolate, bubbles, tacks, dry erase markers and cards in a wonderful display for the teachers. Then, the three off us transported these baskets from the office to my tiny car, Roseanne. They're smiling here, but I'm sure they wanted to kill me.

On Friday, teachers across the United States will celebrate a National Day on Writing and in Connecticut we are starting a couple of days early. With thanks to the National Writing Project I have been able to support writing instruction with a team of teachers from Bassick and, with them, think critically about writing instruction in a time of high stakes assessment, high drop out rates, data crunching, and tremendous obstacles.
If I was a presidential candidate (or Oprah Winfrey) I would be sure every teacher in the U.S. received tremendous support to be the most exceptional teacher possible. Yet, tapping into my environmental science degree, I am thinking locally to act globally. The baskets accompany Kelly Gallagher's book Write Like This as teachers work with students to express, to reflect, to inform, to argue, to promote, to propose, to create, to analyze, to interpret, to state, and to join a national community that values the power of writing.

It is my hope that teachers will leave a hectic work day tomorrow with smiles that are similar to Lois's and Stacey's (and do note, Syracuse is represented in one of the hats - Go Orange!).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Poetic reflection from my day with Hill Central Academy...

Yesterday, teachers at Hill Central Academy in New Haven, Jason Courtmanche of UCConn, and I initiated a conversation about writing at their K-8 school across grade levels and subject areas. Mr. Glen Worthy, the principal, deserves to be commended for his active participation and involvement with the teachers throughout the afternoon, as does his literacy team who stepped up during our time together. I'm also mightily impressed with the student writing that came my way through a prompt I sent to them last week. Lots of written communication, wham, just like that. A first step is building community. Writers need to belong and be part of something beyond the self (although selfishly writing is good, too).

At the end of day teachers broke up into groups and responded to a similar prompt that their students reflected upon. Why Write? has been my essential question for many years. As they wrote, I realized I also needed to write, too. So, I took the white board that was filled with my group's ideas and scribbled this fast, found poem. The words came from their discussion of adapting to the language of Common Core State Standards.

Much more to come.

Word, we are the transitions,
in a position to 
motivate the roads ahead...
supporting our claims until we are dead
in styles informally formal, 
formally informal,
where the writing processes are explored.

We teach & cannot be ignored,
bridging out-of-school words
with in-school skills that get swirled
in curriculum.

Wee hoo. Ho. Hum...
ain't none of us dumb
cuz we put our thumbs up
to academic language and words
(with #'s & vocabulary
we become birds ready to fly to the moon).

We'll get there eventually,
probably pretty soon,
but in the mean time we'll be a hot mess.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Yuck. It rhymes with....

well, luck. And luck is that something caught my eye that didn't look quite right.

I told my sister Casey that I was going to return a gift to her in Monday's mail. It's too late for that, but I can post about the present she and her family left for me on my Monday morning post.

Yep, it was a dirty diaper and it was tucked away behind one of my couch cushions. As my roommate's friend noted, "Wow. How did you see that? It really blended in."

Yes, Mr. J.C. is on his way to being potty trained but he still has his mishaps as evident here in the package they left in Connecticut last week. They say dogs and cats mark their territory...boy, I guess Jacob does, too.

And my sister's response? "I know it is wrong, Bryan. But you have to's kind of funny."

I agree. But revenge is even more hilarious.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stoked about potential collaboration...

inspired by art, friendship, and a Connecticut stance.

Last night, I drove to New Haven to get an adapter to project an iPad - a gift to Bassick High School teachers who requested the tool. While at the Apple store, I walked over to the Afro American cultural center at Yale to see Gordon Skinner's new artwork and opening called, Hard Works. I keep reminding myself in another life I may have the economic resources to collect original pieces, but in the mean time I continue to admire as an academic interested in the multiple ways individuals communicate to the world. While at the show, I also saw a poem penned by Mari Evans, a midwest African American poet who has written children's books, poetry and scripts. She was known to work with high school youth to inspire a new generation of creativity.

Such professional creativity is the hope for the Writing Our Lives conference for Bridgeport youth to be held on Fairfield University's campus in February. With luck and perseverance, the goal is to have Gordon Skinner and Bob Albert (pictured above in a stolen photo from Tumblr - thanx) discuss the writing behind the artwork as one of the sessions youth can attend. The conference will host several speakers to talk about writing in the professional world and to share with young people the many ways communication exists in careers.

Voices need to be represented. Individuals express themselves in a variety of ways to inform, persuade, entertain, analyze, express, discuss, request, propose, educate, and communicate. This, my mom will be happy to know, should include physical performance in collaboration with the Rennie Harrison Puremovement dance already scheduled to be staged at the Quick Center. One day at a time...

I admit it. Secretly, I'm a capitalist.

I was in a colleague's office today where there were several posters of the New England Patriots with whom she used to cheerlead. I asked her to point out where she was, which she did - a speck of a palm-palm amidst an ocean of spectators. I looked to her and said, "You know what I see? A challenge. How can I get a dollar from every person in that audience? I look at the crowd and I see numbers."

She looked at me like I was crazy. Truth is, I watch Donald Trump and Shark Tank and pay attention to the $ signs that are exchanged between greedy bastards. I'm technically not one of these types, but it is in the back of my mind. I wonder what it would be like to sit back and collect money simply by having a plan of action that everyone else needs. I want to come up with the plan and have everyone else implement it. I don't want the large crowds because I like to teach. I would continue that venture. Still, I'd loved to have finances to support my dreams and lord knows that does NOT come from teaching. The trick in entrepreneurship is to create the product that so many others need. The answer to that has to be simple and easy. And when I think of it, I will let you know.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Introducing Bank of America Fellowships for Urban Youth

I learned yesterday afternoon that the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield received one of a few grants in the northeast to support projects that give back to the community. We were rewarded money to offer fellowships to teenagers in Bridgeport to attend a summer writing institute that focuses on professional and career writing. The grant will also allow the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield to host Writing Our Lives conferences (as mentored by Dr. Marcelle Haddix at Syracuse University). The two of us learned quickly that young people want opportunities to write beyond school in professional and creative genres because schools too often overlook such writing in a test-crazed industry of on-demand writing.

As of today, I'm not sure of the details of the grant other than it was written to host youth conferences, to support writing programs in Connecticut, and to sponsor twenty young people in the Young Writers' Institute at Fairfield.

The National Writing Project knows that the great work of doing what is best for young people takes perseverance, creativity, innovation, and commitment. It also requires the financial backing of businesses interested in investing in youth. For this reason, I'm extremely thankful to Bank of America for believing in the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield's work to prepare another generation of writers. Kudos to them.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I wonder, at times, if it is easier than we make it.

I say this, because I invited Jack Powers to present to my graduate students and the students enrolled in Dr. Betsy Bowen's undergraduate course. Last night, Jack offered several mentor texts he uses with students at Joel Barlow High School and demonstrated the writing he gets from them from the modeling exercises (Jack teaches special education courses, English, and math at his school). Our students were captivated.

My intent was to share what I wrote from his workshop (two poems) but I'm not into that right now. Instead, I wish to advocate what he told the teachers-to-one-day-be. Close the doors, do what works, encourage young writers, celebrate their accomplishments and put on the "State" performance when "Stately" types enter your room. If we do what we're mandated to do, teachers will not be successful. The teachers as writers model works. Write with kids. Share with kids. Think with kids. Laugh with kids. Reflect with kids. And encourage kids to be lifelong learners.

Jack shared a story about the perfect lesson plan he once created to meet all the standards expected of him by mandates and law enforcers. He submitted it and, two minutes into the lesson, a kid asked a question about what they were learning, and before he knew it, the entire room went into another, more meaningful lesson. They didn't cover what he listed they would do. Instead, Jack shared that the curiosity of the kids and their inquiry took off. He couldn't plan the lesson to contain their enthusiasm and instead, from listening to kids, they took off into the bonanza of their questions. In other words, they learned.

Perhaps the flaw of the teacher-measurements to come is that, once again, young people will be ignored. Somewhere, somehow, they are overlooked. Yet, a good teacher recognizes they are central to the universe of a school. Making them anything but stellar individuals with tremendous potential will destroy the possibilities of what a school should be. Simple. Spread the writing wisdom of teachers who know what they are doing.

Note to administrators and politicians. Leave the teachers alone. Let them teach.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Everywhere history forgotten...

Somewhere hope to rekindle memory.

There are many things that made my teaching experience successful at the Brown School, but at the center was our school's mission, shared values, and sustained pride for supporting all youth to be their best (when leadership allowed for this to occur). I've noticed since that many schools have records of vision and missions, but that they are seldom shared with kids or used for the way teachers structure their classrooms. Walking into Bassick yesterday, I found this plaque. It reads: To the spirit of youth, eager for knowledge, noble in aspiration, sincere in purpose, the citizens of Bridgeport dedicate this school upon integrity of the character here developed the city rests its hope.

The plaque was polished and I wondered how often do teachers visit this plaque and discuss what it means. Why would a city rests its hope on youth? What would this city say about the conditions of the school and the education kids are receiving? What do they mean by integrity of character and where is the community support to assure this?

I love the plaque and want to know more. Every community should see their school as a space of hope. Sadly, listening to kids and their teaches, much of what is communicated is the opposite. They are frustrated that the State mandates that restricts learning from happening - everything revolves around testing, testing, and testing. The micromanagement from above makes school nearly impossible. Teacher after teacher after teacher dream of a school that is not top heavy with gestapos breathing down their neck policing curriculum and politics. Kids feel the same thing.

Grant Wiggington's Foxfire method was central to my learning to teach. In it, you offer the "givens" of what must be learned and teachers, with the input of students, create a plan of action on how to get there. The student-centered approach brings them to the conversation of what they need, what skills should be targeted, and how they might achieve them. Sadly, viewing youth as individuals is NOT what top down curriculum allows. There are spirited teachers everywhere turning over in their graves by the Big Brother approach to education occurring in the 21st century.

I'm beginning to think a major revolution is in order.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's not October 20th yet, but I'm writing...

because the Day on Writing is everyday.

On Columbus Day, yesterday, I texted my brother-in-law to poke fun of his navigation skills after he got off the wrong exit on his return  to Syracuse. Europeans are celebrating that you didn't sail the Ocean Blue in 1492, Dave. Native Americans wish you had.

I also wrote in a notebook how funny it is that my father had a grump-fest after he learned the Indian Reservation where he buys his cigarettes was closed for the day  - It is doubtful the Onondaga Nation would stay open to celebrate the genocide that began over 600 years ago, but there's a bit of Sherman Alexi humor to my father's rant and I can hear his voice all the way in Connecticut.

Jack Powers, poet-teacher, will conduct a workshop in my graduate class this week and I will be doing one myself for undergraduates. Tonight, I drafted a "magic box" poem of random thoughts, which has interestingly shaped itself into a few verses about departing North Syracuse in 1990 to head to college for the first time. It felt good to scribble poetically again.

And I answered over 75 emails, cleaning my box some...not all, but some.

Finally, I drafted a prompt to send to hundreds of youth in Connecticut to write about writing in celebration of the October 20th event. And I'm laughing - loving to laugh, laughing to love - that writing is not celebrated everyday because that is what the active mind does. If we are going to create lifelong readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers, we must teach youth to compose actively 365 days a year.

I post this early because all of us need to prepare.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I finally gave in, but it wasn't worth it.

The heat kicked on, lasted for one go-around and took the chill out of the air and then hasn't kicked back on since. I've tried overriding and resetting it, but I took it as a sign that I am not supposed to be warm until November. Actually, I rent and this is not my responsibility. I did replace the thermostat last winter and that worked out well. This year, though, it isn't kicking over.

I laughed when I went to see if I could pretend to be Mike Isgar (brother-in-law-extraordinaire who fixes systems with his eyes closed). I pulled off the frame and said, "Yep, I have myself an antique here and it is amazing that this machine runs at all." I know from my years of helping Mike that an old furnace is an old furnace. The employees that work in my basement shoveling coal and keeping the flames going seem really old school. I think I'm in need of a new system. They look like they are beyond retirement.

Of course, Kaufmann fuel also wants to charge $135 more a month this year. Not happening.'re not selling yourself as a reasonable place to live. Beautiful. Convenient to much, but a horrible place to balance a life.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Aquarium Accomplished...

Jam-packed day complete. Barnwells pictures here with Long Island Sound Man, Captain Something or Other (who would be furious with me that I can'r remember the title he kept announcing.

We did the Norwalk Aquarium and the Children's Museum there...note: Children's Museum on free admission day may not have been wide. Extra note: For the Asian woman who took our parking spot even after I got out of the car and talked to her deserves much negative karma to come her way. I don't wish such to anyone, but she was beyond ridiculous, obnoxious, and totally in the wrong.

The Norwalk burgers were good and Stew Leonard's was its usual quirky self, although everyone in Connecticut was shopping there at the same exact time we arrived. With that said, the late arrival of midnight last night and the day of extreme play today has us beyond exhausted. Bring on Sunday (and the Canadian cold front).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Youth is in the house...

...and I was prepared.

I love having guests because I can leave Mounds bars and Kit Kats on pillows and have "Welcome" gifts as if I run a hotel.
Casey, Dave, Sean, and Jacob Charles (J.C.) are visiting me in Connecticut for the weekend with the intent of heading to Mystic and to have some family time.

It's good for me to have breaks in my routine (although my ankle is not happy with me for running around so much). Having guests means cleaning the house which I probably haven't done since Cynderballs was here with her crew. I guess this is a good thing for the winter ahead and I always feel more relaxed in a clean home.

With that said, I would get a maid in a second if I found an economical way to do it. I'm looking forward to the noise, chaos, joy and laughter. Bring it on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Making the connection here first...

Textual, tech-ual and textured lineages - the importance of supporting the literacies of all youth.

It's fall. I know this because the leaves are falling and everything is wet. The dampness is everywhere and my mind craves the hibernation that comes with winter (that is, more space to actually think because I'm not as physically active).

Yesterday at the Connecticut Reading Association Conference in Cromwell, Connecticut, I walked through my recent thinking about community, communication, commitment, commingling, and competence - five Olympic rings to support a strong environment for writers. After, I attended the presentation of Shaun Mitchell of Central High School and his work with digital literacies, however, I thought  about this summer's writing institute and how teachers were influenced by Alfred Tatum's discussion of textual lineages - tracing the reading, writing, and thinking experiences that make one the individual they are. We should be infuriated that the texts we teach in school fail to support the heterogeneous youth we teach. Infuriated and Ashamed.

During Mitchell's presentation, I realized there was a connection to Tatum's conversation. The digital divide is tremendous and access to cyber tools to support literacy of all youth are severely lacking in schools that need them most.  I realized that it is not only important to trace one's history of is important to trace one's access (and uses) of technological tools to communicate in the 21st century (especially how young people are positioned in a larger, more global world than school). Each individual has a lineage of the mind that is MUCH more textured than schools advocate.

I am hoping a few teachers and I can create a demonstration to present this thinking at the National Writing Project's Urban Sites Network conference in Alabama this spring. The theme is: Writers of Social Justice: How One Pen Can Change the World (April 26-27 in Birmingham, Alabama). Textual, tech-ual and textured lineages: the importance of supporting the literacies of youth with 21st century tools (including the pen).

I am thankful for Dr. Alfred Tatum and Shaun Mitchell for making me think with the changing leaves. Both are fighting against the negative media about urban education.  Dr. Tatum has written about state examinations and intelligently notes that the quest to meet AYP (annual yearly progress) has established OYP (overlooking young people).

There's much work to do.

Thinking Star Fish, because...

I found Star Fish for bathroom. The floor was already black and white and now I have a black and white shower curtain. Life, however, is far from black and white and this is why I post "The Star Thrower" by Loren C. Eiseley here (with thanks for Andrew Gott who shared it with me when he was a senior in high school and with a smile thinking of the youngest Park).

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."