Monday, May 12, 2014

Pretending to be a Mom



When I was 23 years old, I arrived in Dallas, Texas to start my first "real" job after college--a job with pay, benefits, and responsibilities. My job was running the food pantry at our non-profit organization, but with that also came an introduction to a wonderful church family. What doesn't necessarily come as any surprise, as I got involved with the church, I interacted with the kids.

I've always liked kids. For some reason, kids have always been intriguing and precious to me. Growing up, I would take the babies off the parents hands after church and play with them until the parents were ready to leave. I played with dolls until I was in 4th grade. I started babysitting at an early age. I started a small business of teaching kids piano lessons when I was in high school. Parents have always entrusted me with their kids and I've always felt this innate connection with them for some reason.

I always assumed I would have children. In fact, ask my mom...I had a complete wedding planned out and just knew by the age of 21 I would have my 2.5 kids (thank God that didn't happen! Twenty-one?! What was I thinking???). Life didn't turn out the way I had planned (does it ever??). However, as is always the case, what I didn't plan, but what God and the Greater Universe had planned for my life has been just as good...and most days, I think, much better.

While running the food pantry at 23, I interacted with the kids at church. I also moved into running our summer program and soon became the Director of Education, a perfectly suited role for what I didn't even realize was in my future. Yet, I never had kids.

Over the last nearly 20 years that I have interacted with kids, so many of them have allowed me to push them (figuratively, of course), give them advice, scold them, reprimand them, get so upset with them I couldn't see straight, do all kinds of things that parents do and so many things that parents shouldn't (like drive off and leave them to walk home because I was so mad at their actions...though, I *did* go back and get them after allowing them to panic for a while) and yet time after time, they continued coming back. My own mother commented to a friend of mine years ago after hearing me rant and scold our entire summer program of kids, "I don't know why these kids like her!" I have to laugh and wonder the same thing sometimes.

But they do. They call (most of them only when they want something...sound familiar parents??). They text Happy Mother's Day messages. They invite me to their graduations, confirmations, baby showers, weddings, and teacher appreciation days. They appease me and let me take lots of photos of them. They listen to my "life lessons" and often even remember them. They give me credit for helping them with things that I already know they could have done without me.

I know today is about mothers. It's about thanking our mothers. I appreciate my mother for setting the example of how to take people in and how to treat people. I thank her for opening up our house so many times to countless preachers, mission groups, baby showers, wedding showers, pool parties, sleepovers, and whatever else...and always providing home cooked meals and family dinners. And, yes, I did send her a card, donate to her favorite charity, and thank her for that.

But today I can't help but be grateful and even emotional for so many kids out there who have graciously allowed me to be their mother...even when they already had their own mom and family...and I thank their parents for allowing me to play a mom role, too. Not only that, both kids and parents/families often welcomed me in as a natural addition to their own family. For a person who loves to be in control and was pretty darn sure she had her whole life mapped out, complete with husband and kids, the non-biological kids in my life make me feel pretty special. They've made me laugh; they've made me cry (tears of pain and tears of joy)...yet every moment has been worth it.

So, today, I say THANK YOU. Tiffany, Gary, Slick, Whitney, Krista, Bre'Anna, Ruth, Maia, Sita, Pratiksha, Sarada, Aarati, Sharif, Monique, Nazareth, Gustavo, Fabiola, Karina, Leidy, Samantha, Deja, Beju, Janet, Tameshia, JC, Javier, Guillermo, Nalleli, Celia, Lucila, Lizbeth de S., Lizbeth F., Cristian, Candace, Carisse, Jessica, Maria, Phul Maya, Dezaree', Vanessa, Nathan, Deyanira, DaQwalon, Katrina, Lewanna, Lemone, Jordan, Anabeli, Monica, Alan, Juan Antonio, Juan Pablo, Bryce, Brandy, Star, Tara, Daniela, Reneishia, Ashley, Jessica, Robert, Kashia, Ravyn, Twasanna, Erika, Rocio, Jazz, D'andra, Alondra, Juana, Ana, Johnas, Bubba, Moo Meh, Eh Kaw, Jorge, Bidhya, Neema, Kieva, Jordy, Gabriel, America, Nguyen, Shatavies, Tracey, Erica, Tyree, Pook, Quinton, Lilia, Jazmine, Juan, Yuri, Htee Shee, Veronica, Belem, Massa, Sunita, Bryan, Sui, Joseph, Julia, Cocoa, ShaSha, Fredrick, Adrian, ...and, oh my goodness, so many more! I know I've left off many. Feel free to reprimand me if your name isn't on the list. I've tried to remember as many of you as I could. Plus, there are so many parents I could mention who have allowed me to be in the lives of their children as well: Imtiaz and Aisha, Sheri and Mark, Juany, Stacey, Georgia, Ama Fay, Griselda, Jessica, ...and so many more than I can't name off the top of my head.

The things you do...the people you've become...make me proud every single day. Thank you for allowing me to pretend to be a mother all of these years and enjoy those moments with you. I am forever grateful.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Thank a Teacher

I'm getting ready to head to Tasby Middle School for their very first "She Matters" conference for their middle school girls.

It's Saturday. The conference starts at 9:00. As a speaker, I know I need to be there by about 8:30 to make sure all of my stuff works and that everything is set up. I'm dragging my feet thinking, It's Saturday! I'll get there as late as possible. Ms. Small has assured me that she'll be there by 8:00 in case any of us want to arrive that early to get set up.

A week from Friday, there will be another event at Tasby. They're going to have their very first Career Day. Since it's their first year, they are starting small...with just the 8th graders. Ms. Childers, the librarian, is in charge of that one. She is recruiting doctors, nurses, scientists, and I can't remember the other fields, to speak to the kids in a hopefully engaging way. She has struggled to get people to commit. Many are "too busy." She keeps working...making phone calls, sending emails, asking for more contacts. Yet, with all of that, the other thing she is trying to do is to get someone to sponsor goodie bags for the speakers so she can thank them for coming. (the school doesn't have the funds to pay for thank you gifts)

As I thought about my lethargy on a Saturday morning, it then dawned on me... this makes for a 6-day work week for Ms. Small. Not only has she worked 40 hours/week teaching kids, for the last month or so, she's been also planning this conference for the girls. And it's not only Ms. Small who will be at the school today. Many other teachers will arrive (as they do every Saturday to teach Saturday school) to complete their 6-day work week.

I thought about how I've hesitated when Ms. Childers asks me to speak on Fridays (which is usually my day off) and how she's so gracious and apologetic when she really needs a speaker and has to ask me despite knowing it's my day off. Yet, she's the one going above and beyond to plan this out for our children...yes, OUR children...OUR future leaders.

Not only should I not be complaining, I should be taking Ms. Small and Ms. Childers thank you gifts for working so hard to provide OUR children with a vision for their future instead of expecting them to thank me.

If you're ever asked to speak at a school, I would encourage you to prepare well, make it engaging and enjoyable...and be sure to thank the teachers who invited you. Maybe even take them a gift card or something. They deserve it. They're working hard to make the world a better place for all of us.

P.S. And if any of you are interested in speaking...about your career, your pathway to college, your experiences growing up, let me know. I'll pass the information on to some teachers who just might want to utilize your experience one of these days.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Realizations of Cultural Isolation

I have one of the best jobs around. I have the privilege of working with middle and high school students from all over the globe. Almost every single student in our Eagle Scholars college readiness program speaks at least two languages...and many of them speak three or four. The large majority of our students are either immigrants or refugees.

I am fascinated by my job and honored by the experience of getting to learn from young people from so many different countries. I often think how blessed I am to have been put in a position that allows me such rich, cultural interaction.

But, the truth is, all of my infatuation with my job and the cultures around me does not take into account what they might be feeling...which might not be such elation.

The other night, we attended a performance in the arts district. I usually take 15-20 students to these performances and they absolutely love them. This performance was in the Performing Arts Center and we were all seated in the one-person seats on the edges (a little different from our usual seats in the Winspear that places us all together).

At intermission, one of my students decided he wasn't thrilled with being by himself so he moved his chair around (I never realized the back and side chairs were movable!) to go sit by some other girls in the group. They immediately told him to move his chair back to where it belonged and came and told me. I, of course, responded as I usually do, with a harsh, "We don't ever move chairs in a place like this!"

Let me step aside and give some background for a minute...

The student in this situation is, by my own uneducated diagnosis, probably autistic. He is absolutely brilliant in math and a super sweet kid who always has a smile on his face. I'm not sure if his autism or just his personality, but he's always wandering off. He's never quite gotten lost, but I am constantly having to yell out for him and ask where he went. He always saunters back with an expression like, "Yes, Ms. Janet?" as if he were standing there all along. His somewhat quirky behaviors often get him picked on at school. I've seen people say things to him. I've scolded our own Eagle Scholars for refusing to partner with him and made it clear that their behavior toward him would NEVER happen again. I know I can monitor it somewhat in our program, but it doesn't change what happens to him every other minute of the day.

He always shows up for our events and is very involved in our program. He ended up in the program by default, because one of the other kids chosen to be in the program didn't show up. I am constantly thinking how glad I am that we ended up getting him in. 

He is Vietnamese. The only Vietnamese student in our program and, if not the only one at school, he must be one of the few. He talks very fast and with a strong accent, which makes it difficult to understand his constant questions, which are sometimes relevant and sometimes not necessarily on topic. His mom is learning English but doesn't have the ability, at this point, to communicate really well. His dad does speak English and is an advocate for his son, but he works a lot. His family is super sweet. His mom makes and sends me sweets all of the time and is always so thankful when I take him home when his dad is still working late at night.

Back to the story at hand...

After I scolded him for moving the chairs, he asked if he could sit somewhere else. There were open seats beside myself and another student so I invited him to be by us. He left an empty seat in between. When I encouraged him to move closer, he shook his head and then I saw his face squinch together as the tears start to come. 

It was a painful cry to watch because it was obvious it came from very deep inside. The tears started to fall. I immediately placed my hand on his arm and asked what was wrong. He couldn't respond. I squatted down beside him and continued with a barrage of questions, "What is it??" "What happened??" "Was it what I said??" Maybe because I was persistent and maybe because he thought he might have a shot at me being able to help, he finally said something. 

Between the tears, the way he talks fast, and his accent, I couldn't understand him. I was frustrated at myself...at my inability to hear and understand him...my inability to speak the language of each of the kids I work with every day. I asked him to repeat. I still couldn't understand. I asked one more time. Still couldn't. I started asking questions of what I thought he might have said. He shook his head, "no." He finally said,

"I'm sad."

My heart sunk. That was hard to hear. The boy who endures everything with a big smile on his face is hurting. He smiles through his pain. I knew this must be the case, but seeing it was one of the most painful things I've had to endure recently. 

"Talk to me," I explained. "What is it?" 

"I don't have friends," he told me. "I thought they were my friends, but even they aren't," referring to the girls who had made him move his chair away from them.

I sat by him and tried to listen to him and console him as much as possible. By this time, the girls had come back and were immediately concerned. "What happened?" they asked. When the time was right, I pulled them aside and explained to them, "He's a person with feelings, too. He may smile all of the time, but he gets his feelings hurt. I want you guys to be nicer to him. Include him. Not just now, but more often in everything. He needs friends, too." 

Since all of the girls were Nepali and are here through refugee status, they began to nod. One explained, "Yeah, I went through that in fifth grade. I know how that feels." Another agreed, "Yeah, me too." They're good girls. My hope is that they will show leadership. My hope is that our Eagle Scholars program can be the place where he finds acceptance of who he is. My hope is that he feels love more than rejection so it balances out the pain. 

What I began to realize is that while I love saying we have so many different cultures in our program, being here from another country can be terribly isolating and painful. Sure, being in the United States may ultimately offer them more opportunities. Sure, being in the United States provides them an opportunity at education. But think about this...

A family who comes on refugee status has to immediately find a job to sustain themselves. No one pays them to learn English first. Many of our parents work two or three jobs and have no time to learn English. The spouses who either don't work or take the time to attend classes still find it very hard (statistics show it's much more difficult for an adult to learn another language than it is for a child). The children do pretty well on picking up the language, especially when we consider that the schools bilingual programs are Spanish/English...not Nepali, Vietnamese, Somali, Burmese, Chin, Persian, or any other number of languages our Eagle Scholars speak. Despite the fact that the children are learning the language quicker, they are still children and need the adults in their lives to help them negotiate this new life. 

Consider the fact that yes, the refugees and immigrants coming here now have an opportunity at a better education than in their country (and, trust me, they are extremely grateful for that opportunity!), but what if they have some kind of learning difference such as autism?! The parents or even the teachers may not realize that it is something that can be worked with in a different way. The parents may not know how to advocate and the teachers may think that the child is just different because of his/her cultural background. Even if the parents think there might be something different about their child or even if they want to explain what they know, they can't because of the language barrier. If a teacher (or non-profit worker like myself) wants to talk to the parents to gain a better understanding of the child and figure out how they can help the parents help their child, again, the language barrier makes that truly difficult.

Being an immigrant...being a refugee...is isolating. My prayer this morning is for people who feel isolated because their situation is difficult for others to understand. My prayer is that I (and many others) will recognize this isolation and do everything possible to break down those barriers...find translators...work to learn a different language or two...advocate in the schools...make the families feel welcome and accepted and find ways to communicate. My prayer is for the middle schooler whose pain came through in his tears. My prayer is that his good days outweigh his bad and that we can be a program of light in his life. My prayer is that he finds some friends...some good friends...who will support and accept him.

And as we say at my church, "Lord, hear our prayers."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My life has value because of other peoples' children


When I was getting close to 40, I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend of mine. He pointed to a little girl around two years old and said, “Doesn’t that just make you want one??” I looked over at the little girl and felt nothing. I mean, she was cute and all…and I love little kids…but wanting one for myself?? “No, it really doesn’t,” I replied.

We continued with the conversation of how we were both getting older and how he wished he had started his family when he was younger. I kept looking at the little girl trying to feel some kind of biological clock ticking…something that would make me have this innate desire to wish she were mine, running around my table. It just didn’t happen.

Mind you, I’ve always loved kids. I played with dolls until I was in the 4th grade. I loved babysitting. …or maybe it was less that I loved babysitting and more that I loved that the parents trusted me with their kids. I loved that parents would hand me their children after church and I would take them and play with them while the parents stood around talking. I loved that the kids always took to me. I had some kind of gift, I suppose. But, at 40 and unmarried, it didn’t translate into me wanting a child of my own to care for on my own.

Though there are times I really wonder what went wrong in my life, I think I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that my life is not...and was maybe never meant to be...like everyone assumes. I have not married and I don't have my 2.5 children...and I may never have that. Instead, I have learned that I still love that parents trust me with their children. I am honored that they trust if they put their children in my hands, I will provide them with new experiences, teach them things they didn’t get in school, connect them with resources that can help them, push them toward college, and do my darndest to see that they become productive citizens. I suppose it is for those reasons that I don’t feel the need to have children of my own.

There's still a little bitty nagging voice ever so often that whispers, “What happened?! You should have gotten married and had kids!” The louder, more rational voice speaks and reminds me that if I had had one or two or three little ones to take care of, I would have put all of my energies into them...because that's what parents are supposed to do. Parents are supposed to lose sleep, move to different neighborhoods so their kids have better schools, and spend money they don't have so that their children can get the things that they want and need. And because it’s such a responsibility to make sure they raise their own correctly, it doesn’t leave a lot of time.

I think about the parents who work jobs that don’t have “paid time off.” I think about the parents who immigrated to this country, don’t speak English, and can’t communicate with their child’s teacher or any of the school personnel. I think about refugees who are sent to our city but don’t understand the culture and are just grateful to be somewhere safe. I think about the parents whose hourly wage jobs are from 2-7 in the evenings, and doesn't allow them the time to expose their kids to new opportunities. I think about those who can't afford to enroll their children in all of the amazing enrichment and educational experiences available in our city. All of those parents want the best for their kids but don’t necessarily have the access or ability to connect with the resources needed to help their child succeed.

At one of our reward trips for the Eagle Scholars college readiness group I work with, I was able to take six middle schoolers and three of their older siblings to a friend’s home to make Italian food. Throughout the evening, so many learning opportunities came up.

Javier learned what a “whisk” was and why you use it. We talked about making a roux so we could create a thickening agent for the white sauce we were making. His super-surprised/shocked expression was priceless when he came back after taking a break and went to stir the milk, butter, flour mixture and felt how much it had thickened.

Another student learned about a sifter—the term, as well as why and how you use it. She repeated the word several times to make it permanent in her vocabulary.

We experienced stuffing cannelloni and tenderizing chicken for the chicken parmesan. We talked about using a serrated knife for bread so it didn’t smush the bread. We doubled recipes and used our math skills to multiply and  used Google and more math skills to convert ounces to cups so we would know how much to use. Some learned to correctly measure flour; others learned to correctly measure liquids (and for you non-cooks out there…yes, there is a way to do that so your recipe turns out right!). Before we ate, we had a mini-lesson on etiquette so we would know where to place the cups (on the right) and how to use the many different forks and spoons they give you in a big, fancy dinner setting (start from the outside and work your way in).

The whole experience was priceless…for me as much as I would guess it was for them. It absolutely made my day when one student told me, “This is really awesome.” Because we were searching for empty containers at the time, confused, I asked, “Looking for containers?!” “No,” she explained, “this whole cooking thing!” And went on to ask, “Could we do this again next year…and do a different food theme?” Of course!!

On the way home, I asked them what they had learned (it’s a question I always like to ask). One of the girls said, “Teamwork.” Not sure if she was saying that just because it was the “right” answer, I probed. “What do you mean?” She explained, “We all had to work together or we wouldn’t have gotten all of that done.” Another student explained, “Sharing is caring…because we had to share the stove with each other to make what we needed for our dish.” It was a great analogy…and I hadn’t even thought of it. We did have to work together. We did have to share. And by doing so, we not only accomplished our task, but I think the food came out absolutely superb! It was the perfect analogy for this group of students who are working toward college. The path is much easier when you work together.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent, but I know when kids enjoy, appreciate, value, and/or just learn something from a new experience, it makes me overjoyed. That’s when I know that my path in life was probably set for me by a higher power long before I realized it. My role is not to impact my own two or three kids. My role is to assist other parents with impacting theirs.




Editor’s post script: After writing this post, I received a text message from one of the kids who attended the cooking class. She sent me a picture of two tomato pies (just like we made last night) and said, “Look Ms I made my own.” Her text absolutely made my day…that she made the pies and that she texted me to tell me about it!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Connecting Kids to Inspiration


Who knew that there was such a job as a “Colorist”?? I guess it makes sense. Comic books are better with color and someone has to do that job. I just had never really thought about it.

I set up an “event” for our Eagle Scholars because I know several of them are interested in animation. I figured if it had to do with comic books, maybe it would be something in a similar vein that they might like. After all, my goal is not to expose them just to the things they want to be, but to the things that could inspire them…the things that might spark an interest they didn’t know they had. Plus, this “Colorist” was going to be at UTA…which provided us an opportunity to be on a college campus (always a bonus!).

Only three had signed up. I got word the day of that Dereon wasn’t going to go. I was somewhat frustrated because this same kid seems to sign up and not show up quite a bit. When I called, his mom explained to me that she works 2-7 and couldn’t take him back to the school at 5:30. She explained that he has asthma and she didn’t want him walking all that way.  That argument stopped me. I know where he lives (which is quite a little distance from the school). Besides the concern of people picking on him and some random boys jumping him, walking that far would concern me with his asthma, too. It’s been rainy and humid lately. Not that any weather is good weather for people with extreme asthma, but it wasn’t a good combination.

“He can stay with me after school,” I tried. No, she wanted him to go home first. “I’ll take him home after the event,” I pleaded. She’d be home from work by then and could pick him up so that wasn’t the issue. After pleading and bargaining, she said she’d talk to his aunt. If the weather wasn’t bad (because she has two little ones), his aunt could take him.

I hung up the phone slightly frustrated--not really at her; not at him. Just frustrated…because everything she said makes sense and makes her a good parent, not a bad parent. I was originally irritated that he had signed up and now wasn’t going, like he has done in the past. I guess I figured maybe that was him deciding he didn’t want to go at the last minute or her just not telling him or something. Actually, I’m glad she did sign him up so I had the opportunity to call and talk to her about it. The reality wasn’t any of my assumptions, but poverty and resources. She’s a single parent. She has to work. She has to work hours that don’t allow her to see her kids or make sure they get places. She doesn’t let him go because she knows certain things trigger his asthma and she doesn’t want him sick. Makes sense to me.

She called back to tell me her mom could take him. Yay!! I don’t know if her mom doesn’t work or works different hours. Sometimes, though, I’m kinda glad people don’t work. (that’s a whole different post that I’ll need to explain later). I really wanted him to go because of what I had discovered when going over to their home for one of my regular meet-and-get-to-know-the-family meetings that I’m doing with every Eagle Scholar. As I talked to them during that meeting, I learned that Dereon has a Nintendo DS. It has some kind of animation program on it. He has created a six-episode animation series…which sounds fairly unimpressive until you see the program and see that it is the animation that requires one slight movement per slide and realize that there are 170 slides per episode. It’s taken him months to create the series.

Dereon's grandmother brought him back to the school at 5:30, as planned. I was the one running behind. After a stressed, rush hour driving experience, we made it right on time. (thank goodness!) The speaker (Jeff Balke) was really good. He was laid-back and handed out tidbits of information like, “Follow you passion. This has been a passion of mine since I was in 6th grade. I loved coloring.” Then talking about work, explained, “When I get an assignment to do a comic book, sometimes I go nights without sleep because I have a deadline and I have to get it done. But I love it so much it doesn’t matter.” He gave each participant one of his 100th comic books to take home with us (a big milestone in the Colorist arena).

Only two kids ended up going with me. As we were leaving the event, we stopped at one of Jeff Balke’s large banners of a Ninja Turtle he had colored. Dereon got up real close and studied it for a bit. As we walked off, he mumbled, “Now I’m really inspired.”
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*That’s* why I take kids. That’s why it doesn’t matter that it was just two kids who showed up. Who knows what he might do with that new knowledge that someone can be a Colorist. That’s why I have to figure out ways to work *with* the parents and work through things like work schedules. Dereon deserves to be inspired and exposed to things he’s never discovered before. We deserve for him to be inspired. We might miss out on greatness if he isn’t!

That makes me inspired!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why I Hate For-Profit Colleges


I have a very strong detest/abhorrence for for-profit colleges (i.e. Remington, University of Phoenix, ATI, Everest, Argosy, etc).

I hate them because...
...they charge students $400 a credit hour when a community college charges $50/credit hour...just so they can get the maximum in financial aid reimbursement from the government.
...the work I see students produce isn't corrected or graded well, which leads students to assume they are doing quality work.
...I have friends who have worked at them and were told to recruit people at any cost as long as they got them to sign on the dotted line so they could make money.
...they prey on vulnerable people (even going into homeless shelters) who aren't likely to go to college so that they (the college) can get the reimbursement from the government then when the student drops out the college gets paid and the student (not the for-profit college) is left with the bad credit and tons of debt.
...they have low graduation rates and turn out unemployable students.
...students who go to their 2-year programs have to start over when they go to a real college because the for-profits aren't accredited. Real colleges don't accept their credit hours. They won't transfer.
...if students decide to continue, the for-profit has often used up all of the financial aid the student is eligible for because they max out their cost for their own profit. Plus, because students default on their debt to the for-profits (because it's so enormous), they can't qualify for any other financial aid.
...students leave these colleges with thousands of dollars in debt and no credible degree to show for it.
...very rich people are collecting enormous amounts of government funds by exploiting poor people and using our/MY tax dollars to do it.

Senator Dick Durbin fought against them last year and this year (you can tell him your story here) and Nightline did a special called College, Inc if you want more information. I hadn't known Romney to promote and encourage for-profits. I'm flabbergasted and disgusted. Talk about a waste of tax payer dollars!!

Friday, October 19, 2012



Allen High School Performing Arts Center 

The other night I was invited to attend an Allen High School choir concert. I went to support the teenager who asked me. I've known him since he was three and was interested in seeing him in his musical element that he has decided is his focus of study.

He had told me the performance was at the PAC at the high school. Ok. No problem. Every high school I've ever been to has an auditorium so I'll just go there and get directed to the PAC auditorium, I assumed. I "turned left" as Rosie (my GPS system) told me to but instead of being in front of the school I was on a street with multiple buildings. 

The new, $60 million stadium was on my left. I saw a building on my right and thought maybe that was it. As I pulled up to the building I could see through the windows and saw people with swimsuits. Obviously, not the right place. I pulled away and saw the sign, "Don Rodenbaugh Natatorium." I kept driving. Several lit-up tennis courts were on my right. I kept driving and started thinking, Good grief this is a college campus, not a high school! I saw the high school on the right, heard cheering from a smaller football field ahead of me, and finally noticed a sign, "Performing Arts Center." Oh. Wow. It's it's own building.

When I walked in, 10 students were on stage. One kid was introducing the band members and the students on stage. He projected his voice. He was confident. He spoke to the audience of about 1000 people with as much ease as if there was no one in the room. He asked the other students to introduce themselves and they all oozed with confidence just like he did. The auditorium was full. Parents and students were clapping and cheering and encouraging the students in a way that would make anyone feel good.

I nearly teared up.

I thought about the kids I've worked with over the last 17 years. I thought about how I don't know a single one who would have the confidence to stand on that stage and command that audience as those kids did. I looked around at the amazing facilities. The auditorium was full of cheering parents. Even the kids who didn't have parents there (like the kid I was there to see) couldn't help but feel good and gain some confidence in an environment like that.

I thought about the kid I was there to see. He's contemplated Juliard and some very well-known colleges. I know his friends are all thinking about similar colleges. I thought about the kids in Dallas. Most are hoping to get accepted into a local university. Many will need to take developmental courses. Several of them don't have any parental support.

I was a little sad and, I admit, a little angry. Not at all at the kids...not at the parents. I was so happy that they have that opportunity. How great to be a parent in that area. How nice to know everyone around you is so focused on making sure their child succeeds. How great to be in a like-minded community who votes for large bonds to build things like $60 million stadiums and have natatoriums and tennis courts, etc. all on a single campus. 

I was probably more irritated than angry. I wanted to tell someone, "I dare you to tell me money doesn't matter! I dare you to try to convince these parents and these kids that they have to switch their kids to one of our DISD high schools (not Townview or TAG) and tell them their kids will have the same opportunity for success! I dare you!" I bet not a single parent would believe them or take that chance with their kids.

I've always thought that part of the problem is that DISD is so huge. When I look at Allen ISD, that theory goes out the window. There are over 5000 students...and that's just 10th-12th grade...in ONE school. Yeah...kinda destroys my argument.

So, all I'm saying is if you see me on the street, just don't ever tell me that quality education isn't about money. After seeing that campus and those parents and students, you'll never be able to convince me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My street's flood rating is "excellent"???

At the encouragement of a friend, I just looked on the city's map for the upcoming 2012 bond package that is supposed to reduce flooding. I almost didn't because I was sure my street would be included.

See, my neighbor and I called the city 5 years ago...and even eventually got them to come out and take pictures. You can see my blog about it back in 2007 here: http://janetmorrison.blogspot.com/2007/04/realities-of-life-in-inner-city.html. Look down to the paragraph that starts with "no drainage." I emailed Leo Cheney then. A few years later I went to one of Carolyn Davis's town hall meetings and brought it up again because I noticed that they seemed to be fixing the streets across East Grand where the official Jubilee Park Community Center is. I thought it was odd that they wouldn't come across East Grand. She informed me that there was a bond package and they would be getting to our street...eventually.

Well, eventually hasn't come. I don't know what happened to that other bond package, but now here's another one. Maybe this is our chance. I looked up the map, fully expecting my street to be a yellow or a red line...or at the very most a green line according to this guide:



Instead, my street was given a purple!! See the map here:



Now, if my education serves me right and I can read maps and understand colors correctly, purple is for excellent. That doesn't make any sense to me. When I have visitors over to my house after a rain, they have to leap to get out of their car. In an early morning trip, a friend dropped her keys into the probably 4" water abyss (yes, I just measured it) and then had to reach into that nasty abyss to fish them out since we couldn't see anything in the dark.

Here are some photos so you can see for yourself:




To be fair, I walked on down our street and the further you go from East Grand, the less standing water there is. But just because half of the street drains for the most part, does that mean we on the other half have to deal with standing water, mosquitoes, and the mud and junk it brings to our front door?? 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Necessary for Life: Education + Hope + Justice


For some odd reason, I still underestimate the power of the WORLD WIDE web and Facebook. With my excitement about being able to leave 2011 behind and start a new year and new possibilities, my friend encouraged me to use my new tattoo as my Facebook profile picture. I hadn't planned on showing the world my tattoo but I put a lot of thought into my tattoo and it has a lot of personal meaning for me so I thought, "Sure! New profile pic and new meaning on life!" So I changed the profile pic, cropped it so you could only see the tattoo (and not the rest of my body) and posted it.

What Facebook doesn't tell you is that they add your cropped photo to your profile, but they also add the original (uncropped) picture to your pictures. I only had a picture of my stomach, but it's still a little more risqué and exposed than I like to be.

I started getting comments on the picture saying, "You got a tattoo???" Seriously, for some crazy reason, I guess I assumed people would think it was just a picture and not me. I started answering coyly at first and have since changed my mind. After all, if you see me in a swimsuit this summer, you'll see it anyway. If you don't, well, that was intentional. I didn't get it for you. :)

However, now that the word is out, I feel the need to explain it so you can understand it's entire meaning.

The hand: I have a piece of jewelry with this hand on it. The card that came with it explains: "This design represents the ripple effect when we touch the lives of others." I have always used the term "ripple effect." I believe we will never know the true ripple effect of the people we touch. It reminds me of It's a Wonderful Life. Take any one of us out of someone's life and their life would be completely different.

Every once in a while one of my "kids" (who are now either in college or graduated from college) will mention something like, "Yeah, I'm helping so-and-so with their college applications," or "No, I don't need any help with my financial aid, [insert former college student's name here] is helping me with that. It makes me happy beyond belief knowing that I helped the former college student with their paperwork and it only took that one little ripple for so many others to get the help they need. What's even more rewarding about this ripple effect is that my neighborhood is one where the percentage of kids going to college is much lower than average so to know how they have begun helping each other and extended beyond my reach is wonderfully satisfying to me.

The words: A while back I emailed a bunch of my friends and asked them to write three words that described me. It was a little awkward for me to ask this but I thought it would help me figure out the words I wanted on my tattoo and I value my friends so much that I thought it would be significant that they were included in creating the tattoo...even though they had no idea why they were participating in my random request. After getting many words back, I categorized them. I didn't want to write things like "stubborn," "passionate," or "writer" on me. I didn't want to label myself. Instead, I thought about the things that made me stubborn and passionate and the content of my writing. I boiled it down to Education, Justice, and Hope.

The placement: I am a brown belt in kung fu. I have learned that if a kick or punch is executed directly on the solar plexus, it disrupts the entire body...to the point of not being able to function. Thus, I placed my tattoo directly on the solar plexus. (No, it wasn't intended to create a target for any of you who might be getting any ideas!) In my mind, the center of my body is the core. Education, Justice, and Hope make up the core of my being. I truly believe if any of those three are taken out or messed with, it will completely disrupt our ability to function...personally and within our society. Eduction + Justice + Hope = Life and Life Change.

So now you know. I thought long and hard about the why behind the what. I wanted it to be meaningful and out of the ordinary. It's because of that, I know I will have absolutely no regrets. Here's to 2012!