The Club that Would Have Me

Pssst. I joined the PTA this year after three years of bitter derision of said group and their conviction that a marque will solve the problems faced by the public schools. Actually I joined the PTO, which is code for “we don’t want to pay national dues.” My story is that I was at registration when I spilled coffee all over my t-shirt, which was my favorite summertime activity. I have at least four coffee splattered shirts. Make that three since I freezer paper stencil painted one for Mz. Molly, on whom I and and others have a girl crush. She is so way cute, but I think it’s her juiced up bike that makes me feel all tingly inside.

Back to PTO/registration day – I was a hot mess (not the Paris Hilton kind but the kind involving a splashy mess of hot liquid) when I noticed the t-shirt table staffed by the PTO president. She told me I could get a discount on school t-shirts if I joined the PTO, so, well, there you have it. Had I known Alex was planning on being the secretary, I would have joined just so I could make faces at her as she attempted all things secretarial. OH, but that’s the best part. The PTO prez said I would only be as involved as I wanted to be. Therefore, if I couldn’t attend the meetings, she wouldn’t make me! YAY! No commitment beyond the cash donation.

Membership has its privileges. For example, doing nothing and discounts on shirts. I also got into movie night for free. It was there that I went in cahoots with my favorite partner in crime, whose name I will not mention, but Anna knows who she is, to break into my son’s 3rd grade classroom to install screen maps of the US and the world. Anna is going to get me into serious trouble one day. She already got me into a clay building class when I didn’t take the prerequisite – a fact that didn’t pass unnoticed by a biddy or two.

Oh, but anyway. I just thought that I would say it loud and proud; I am Sarah Palin. Except that I don’t shoot wolves from helicopters and I don’t wear lipstick and I’m not all that fond of pitt bulls and it’s a well known fact I came in last place in the only beauty contest I ever entered. Come to think on it, except for my PTO membership, Tina Fey glasses, and vagina, I’m really not much like Palin at all. And that will make it very easy for me to join Wampus Against Sarah Palin. Sadly, WASP membership indicates obvious social climbing on my part.

One last note: Do not counterfeit this membership card for if you so choose to do so choose, then you will find yourself embroiled in major discussions about the relative benefits of nothing and every freaking thing and are also committing to spam out the ying yang.

School Houses Rock!

Get past the Border Patrol Ad, okay?

This was my son’s teacher last year! This was her! Teachers are so way cool. Molly is so way cool. Molly can teach AND double dutch. And guess what, she’s going to have a community garden WITH CHICKENS at the school. I miss Molly.

I’ve been concerned about my son’s teacher this year. She’s more traditional and worksheet oriented. As it turns out, she is also empathetic and her students like her. She also lets us parents come in and knock around whenever we want. She’s letting me teach the students about current events. This week the 3rd graders READ THE CONSTITUTION as it pertains to the presidency. Can you imagine? All that language? But they did it and they know what qualifies a candidate for the presidency and what the duties are. Of course they were mostly interested in the part about forgiving their buddies and throwing parties for foreign dignitaries. Toward the end of the lesson, we touched on the electoral collage (S + R = E, did you know that? The presidency is not just a history/civics thang, it’s also math/geography). Next week are going to go into campaigns and eventually we will look at the current candidates. I’ll keep you posted, because I’m sure you are on the edge of your seats to know what the kids are saying.

On Friday, another parent is coming in with her bassoon to help the kids with their sound studies. Yet another parent has made tons of homemade playdough to help the students better conceptualize city, state, country, etc. And yet another parent is bringing in tons of related texts and may start an art project. So, it’s still cool this year, though it’s hard to top Molly. I wish every child could experience a classroom where the teacher and a large number of parents frequently indulge in active learning and engaging children.

One thing I should learn is how to post a video that doesn’t immediately start playing every time the website opens. Sorry about that. I hope next time you visit, you won’t mind hitting the pause button.

Child Assessment

I was looking for a particular photo of my van since today gave me a reason to purge a brain blog on that subject. I couldn’t find it. Ah, well. That blog will have to stick in my brain for a while longer. Instead, I found this old journal entry marked “draft”. I think I’ll post it as is (minus the rant on DIBELS). But first, here is a recent photo of my mustard-only sandwich-eating son with a certificate for reading from the librarian at his school.

“Parrish does not eat paint.” The horror! All the other kids in the class eat paint, except for my son. Maybe I could put it on the dinner menu one night to prepare him for his next paint eating assessment.

Parrish’s teacher told me that he was her “shining star” and insisted that he had the intelligence to be an engineer. She described for me how he studied each toy in the classroom before he would play with it. He inspected for usefulness, function, and purpose the classroom toys. All the other kids slung the toys around without a care as to whether it was being used properly. Another blow. Why doesn’t my son eat paint? Why doesn’t my son play grab-and-go with the toys? What’s wrong with him?

At that conference, regardless of what the teacher actually said, I heard that my son isn’t creative and carefree. I heard that my son is too linear, methodical, and analytic. That night I asked him why he didn’t eat paint like the other kids. He slowly fixed his big blue eyes, rimmed with long brown lashes my way and blinked. What did I expect? He was only 18 months old.

Why is it that I considered the two days a week my son spent at daycare “school”? Why is it that as a parent I neglected to honor my son’s strengths and focused instead on imaginary areas for improvement? Since birth I did that with both my kids. Due dates, milestones, and so forth were met with my smug pleasure at being ahead of the curve. I’d like to say that I didn’t care what other kids were doing, but I’d be lying. I want my children to be normal. Well, slightly better than normal.

Here is my son then. Clearly, you can force your kid to wear funny glasses and he will still be serious if he’s a serious kid. The glasses and guitar lessons and routine screenings of The Muppet Show will round him out either by pumping up his cool factor or providing a depth of issues.


Smörgåsbord my style isn’t exactly Swedish or buffetish, but I like the word anyway. Those Sweds just use cool words. I’m attempting a more enriching daily kitchen experience through the preparation of one inspired foodstuff creation each day. Sadly, today’s effort fizzled with an applebutter sandwich. I should have recognized my own culinary incompetence, but I have had some successes.

George and I made the muffin recipe again only we used organic blueberries and lemon juice instead of chocolate chips and vanilla. Next time, I would set my blueberries in sugar like my great aunt. In fact, I really need to get that recipe. The muffins were drier than I would have liked. Also, I tried to save them for a potluck lunch, but in just two short days a swamper/plastic bag combo set them to mold. Not exactly inspired, but attempted.

Starting 15 or so years ago, it became impossible for me to think of summer without thinking of tabbouleh (tabouli?). The tomatoes and cucumbers are just too good to be true in the summer and the two in any combo makes my stomach go mad with anticipation. I tried a new recipe and it worked. Only I didn’t stick to the recipe. This is something like a cup of bulgar, a cup and a half of boiling water, some olive oil, and some lemon juice sitting for an hour. I added salt at this point. Also, I used table salt instead of kosher salt. It was too salty. Once the bulgar soaked up all the juicy goodness, I added tomatoes, flat leaf parsley, spring onions (or whatever you call them), cucumbers, and dry mint. I didn’t like the tabouli at this point, so I put in lots more lemon juice and more onion. It worked and was eagerly received at a potluck lunch. Is potluck the new fondue?

Olive oil has been central to my attempts in the kitchen. My girlfriend Anna brought some to me from her husband’s folks in California. I used it to make my favorite garlicky mustard vinaigrette. I stole this recipe from my friends the Cojeens. If you are ever in Oklahoma and in need of archaeology, guitars, or salad dressing, they are your peeps. I don’t know that it would be appropriate for me to publish their recipe, but to give you an idea of why I like it so much, this small half jar took eight cloves of garlic. Luckily, we had just been to a garlic and onion festival at Agua Linda Farm.

I put up some blackeye peas in the freezer some time back. I needed to cook them up. Nothing fancy here. Peas, water, bacon grease (I didn’t want to wait for hamhock to thaw), and after 45 minutes, salt. Now we are full circle because this food reminds me of my mother and her family. It goes super yummy with my great aunt’s tomatoes and cornbread.

After all this eating, I need to jump on a stationary bike at the kids’ school to exercise and generate electricity.

Parrish’s former teacher got a sentence write-up in today’s paper:

● $994.74 to help second-graders at Borton Primary Magnet School see energy being produced by pedaling a stationary bicycle linked to a generator.

Read the full article here.

WOW Review Premiere

Worlds of Words proudly announces the premiere issue of WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures. WOW Review is an electronic journal of critical reviews on children’s and adolescent literature that highlight intercultural understanding and global perspectives. The review journal is one of two online publications offered by WOW and made available to you without subscription, membership, or fee requirements.

(Disclosure – I work for Worlds of Words and believe in their mission. On the other hand, the organization and/or its partners may not share my views as expressed here.)

Who Lives Down There?

For Earth Day I taught 300 Borton children and adults how to determine “what lives down there?” Here I am.

My daughter is the noticeably bored kid in blue. The first language of the kid staring at the ground up front is Kurdish. I’m hoping they don’t represent how miserable everyone else was at the only station in full sun.

For three years, I’ve been visiting the bird sanctuary at my children’s school and staring at a variety of ground holes. The first year, I walked around a couple of times watching Anna and betts struggle with irrigation while noticing the subterranean homes of the desert critters. Jesse was in Iraq and so my attention was divided. Mostly I remember the striped shirt I wore on both visits. The second year was focused on pulling buffel grass and looking at ground holes. I don’t remember what I wore. This third year we’ve worked on getting children and families into the bird sanctuary. Since I’d spent three years thinking of Wonderland down those rabbit holes, I was elected to run a station on ground hole identification. I wore a striped skirt.

Here’s your minilesson:
1) Where is the hole located? Is it elevated or level with the ground? Is it out in the open or under a bush or between rocks?
2) How big is the hole? Is it small for insects or ants? Is it medium sized for a rodent of some sort? Is it large enough to accommodate a coyote? Measure the height/width of the entrance for more precise identification. In general you’ll look for holes smaller than 3 inches, between 3 and 8 inches, and greater than 8 inches in diameter.
3) What shape is the hole? Circular holes typically belong to rodents. You’re likely to find lizards in semicircular holes. Ovular holes will house tortoises, for example.

You can take note of other details too like if it has a silky barrier to it (you can expect a spider in that hole) or whether the homeowner is tidy or messy. Sometimes another animal will move into an abandoned hole. I showed the kids all kinds of photos of animals with their holes, including burrowing owls and kangaroo rats.

At this point, I asked the kids to look around the sanctuary to see if they can guess “who lives down there?” If they wrote down the answers to the three questions I gave them and send a letter to me using the school’s post office, I would help them identify ground holes in their yards or nearby parks. The kids were pretty cool, but the adults giggled when I invited everyone to tell me about their holes. I have received no letters thus far.

Check out more pix of our awesome Earth Day. Sadly, the composting station didn’t get photographed. The kids really got into worm poop.

Outdoor Education

Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) published a self-promotion story on the bird sanctuary at the kids’ school where I spend a few hours each week. Borton Environmental Learning Lab (BELL) is a patch of desert that a few parents and I have been cultivating for the past few years. The committee is mostly driven by betts, though other parents contribute significantly. We try to get the kids outside once a week on top of the planting, watering, and clean-up we also do once a week.

It’s great to see the kids outside, but the ventures into BELL aren’t to replace recess. The kids are involved in meaningful learning. They take in their surroundings through careful visual, auditory, and tactile observation and then journal about the experience. There’s a great deal of science and writing involved. There’s also the occasional cactus prick and bug bite.

The kindergarteners and first graders I’ve taken to BELL learned about symmetry when comparing mesquite, palo verde, hackberry and other tree leaves. They’ve learned about Precolumbian people and uses for the desert plants. They’ve learned about habitat, adaption, and how they relate to each other. They’ve learned some state history too. My next goal is for them to create their own desert story using the information they’ve gathered. I’m not an educator, so we’ll see how that goes.

I’m proud of the students’ work and would post it, but it’s not my intellectual property. Let me just tell you, it’s incredible. At the beginning of the year, students were unnerved by crickets, unsure about sitting on the ground, and asked about polar bears. Now they run to the bee bush to see if it still smells like lime gummy bears. They are much more confident in that couple of acres of wilderness.

Kids are too smart to be taught how to take tests or to write to arbitrary prompts or to sit in front of a computer. For that matter, teachers are too valuable a resource to be scripted. I’m probably biased toward an inquiry curriculum since I work for the woman who put it “out” there, but to teach all subjects to a child’s imagination is a powerful thing. I’m thankful for this school, principal, and teachers. Every child deserves these opportunities.

Tree Room Star

George’s class made the newspaper! This time it’s for their work and not the MRSA scare, which wasn’t an issue at Borton to begin with. George’s class designed and executed a newspaper publishing operation. The front page article was a blurb but on 4A is this article.

As the daughter/great-granddaughter of a public school teacher (my mother is still in public schools as a speech pathologist) and the daughter of a former newspaperman, this project was fun to see come together. It brought back vivid childhood memories. Dad read the paper to us and frequently had smudgy inky fingers. His work was a madhouse! He taught me to use a dictionary with the command, “Summon your elder sibling.” My mother’s teacher lounge was endlessly fascinating with an old duplicating machine, typewriters with no letters on the keys (click, click, zip, bing!), and a vending machine. She was an English teacher and so I learned classic stories like that of Abelard and Heloise and in 5th grade, she helped me memorize the Emma Lazarus poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty. But back to George…

George is quoted in the article and to the right of the screen is a photo gallery that includes this picture of me looking every bit the exhausted mess I am. (Would somebody please shove me in the shower once in a while?!?) Molly, who is also quoted, is Parrish’s teacher. Don’t worry about her skipping math instruction. She has a math focused master’s degree and so her students get lots of it. The more I know Molly, the more I like her. Dana came to the U.S. last year from Iraq. During my tour, he pretended to be interviewing the president.

+++ rant on NCLB, scripted/corporate curriculum, crippling mandates and so forth deleted to highlight how looking at teachers as degreed professionals who teach between the cracks can make awesome things happen +++