“It’s our obligation to run a school system.” “Human safety comes first.” “Given what we knew, we felt we could run the schools safely and efficiently today.” These are quotes from Mayor De Blasio’s press conference earlier in the day.
Last night, before any snow fell, the mayor and chancellor made the decision to open schools today. They said it was based on the information they had regarding the weather forecast. Their goal was to give parents maximum notice about the day so they could plan accordingly. These reasons are well and good in principle but, in reality, there was a heavy, horrible, dangerous storm occurring during the morning commute. Incidentally, that was the time children went on school buses, parents walked to school with their children, and school personnel traveled to school – many by car.
As a retired NYC principal, it was my professional obligation to run a school. If you ask me the most important responsibility of my job, I could tell you unequivocally it was to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children and my faculty. Oh, I agree with Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Fariña that, “human safety comes first.” The issue is that they did not demonstrate that concern for the 44% of the children who attended school or the many school personnel who ventured out in untoward conditions to get to their schools as the storm was peaking.
No one is asking the mayor to call off school constantly, as he alluded to, during his conference. I am asking that on days that “Hazardous Travel Advisory in NYC” is plastered all over the TV screen that the words below it read “Public Schools Will Not Be Open Today.” Live by your words Mr. DeBlasio and Ms.Fariña. It’s a good way to do business.
This is not the type of blog that I usually write but I was so moved by the story that I felt compelled to share it.
I met Snoopy last night. Snoopy is a four year old, 50 lb. pure bred Husky with the most beautiful blue eyes. He is friendly, playful, smart and loyal. He obeys commands and loves to give kisses. For someone like me, who is not necessarily a dog lover, it is easy to fall in love with him. It’s also easy to picture a dog like this living with a family, romping in their yard and having a great life.
But Snoopy was a military dog. This dog was being trained for a very different type of life, a life in combat. He spent the last three years at the side of his trainer. They were inseparable. He was learning to sniff out bombs, find cadavers, and attack when necessary. He participated in parades and walked proudly with his trainer and other members of the military. He was deemed to live a military life. That was until this past Tuesday.
You see, Snoopy wasn’t aggressive enough and therefore not right for this type of service. I totally understand that military dogs must fit a certain mold, no criticism for that. He would return to civilian life and have a home with a family. All was going well until the people who planned to adopt him backed out at the last minute. His trainer and the trainer’s superior tried to find others to take him, but no luck. Though they both loved this dog, they were told that Snoopy, this beautiful, healthy, young dog who was so full of life, would be put down at 9:00 AM on Wednesday.
As luck would have it, my sister in law, who does animal rescue, was at the groomer with some of her dogs and learned about Snoopy from another animal lover. She and my brother sprung into action, contacted the proper people and rescued Snoopy on Tuesday night, sparing him from an untimely death.
Snoopy’s trainer, could not stop crying at the loss of his much loved companion. Still a member of the military, he could not adopt this dog. Snoopy, used to being with this man for 24/7, had a hard time separating as well. Not easy for either of them. But after meeting Snoopy last night, I am confident that he will be fine. He will be adopted by the right people and get the home he needs, the attention he craves and the love and life he deserves. They in turn, will be rewarded by lots of kisses from a truly delightful and loyal pet.
*Ironically, I saw this on this article about Dogs of War in the Huffington Post today http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/11/dogs-of-war-book_n_1079604.html?ref=green&icid=maing-grid10%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl2%7Csec1_lnk3%7C112023
I am not a writer. Sure, I could write the occasional speech for graduation, poem for a celebration or presentation for a workshop. I could also write the numerous memos, handbooks and letters required for my job as a principal. But that was about the extent of my writing. Then, about a year ago, after being introduced to Twitter by my son @MrMatthewRay, I started to read some amazing blogs. I loved the honesty of what the bloggers had to share and was impressed by their voice.
With the ongoing encouragement of my son, and some prodding as well, I started to blog. I am by no means a passionate blogger. By that I mean, I do not blog on a daily basis or even on a regular basis. My passion comes in what I say in my blogs. The inspiration doesn’t always come easy and the writing takes some time but that works for me.
Blogging gives me “A Voice and A Choice.” (I respectfully borrow this phrase from the Self Advocacy Association of New York State http://www.sanys.org/). When I blog, I no longer have to worry about “spewing the company line,” or saying things that I don’t believe. I can write what I do believe. I can write about my experiences in the field of education. I can write about my passions. I can share my philosophy and mind set with others. I can write as often as I want. I am thrilled with the responses that I receive and am grateful that people find what I have to say useful.
I still consider myself a novice blogger and continually challenge myself to write more. I am working on it. And most importantly, I know, I have a voice and a choice.
Thanks to @teachdmac for inviting me to write this post and the Rockstar Meme– how blogging rocked your world. My invitation goes to @SpecialEdAdvice, @Childanxiety, @Singoffpitch, @ChrisVacek and @tperran. These are some people who have valuable contributions to share.
Recently I came across this quote on a calendar: “It’s not the high powered stardom we need. It’s the undemanding acceptance of who we are. The same is true for our students.” This quote got me thinking about Pernille.
Though the stardom is nice, and the recognition that goes with it is lovely, I think Pernille’s stardom comes from her intrinsic knowledge of who she is and what she believes and transferring that into doing the right things for kids. Though I’ve never seen her teach first hand, her style, philosophy and mind set comes across in her blogs. It’s so ingrained in who she is that it’s become how she is.
Whether she realizes it or not, Pernille is a major influence on many peoples’ transformations as educators. Through the way she thinks, teaches and reaches all children, she’s modeled an educational philosophy and mindset, which, in my opinion, is so right. She encourages members of her PLN to think differently and in turn, change their way of teaching. It is evident by the numerous tweets, retweets and comments on her blogs how many people value Pernille and her message. It should be gratifying for her to know that she makes a difference and is impacting the global community. It’s amazing how it goes on and on and on.
Pernille has my vote. She truly deserves to win the Great American Teach Off. Just imagine what a creative person like Pernille could do with $10,000 to further the learning of her students. Let’s help her find out by voting for her.
In my eyes, Pernille is a star. I hope you think so too
Voting in the Great American Teach Off begins Monday, October 3 at 1 PM EST.You can vote for Pernille one time every day by clicking here.
In the world of education, there is always talk about preparing students for college. There is also healthy debate about whether or not college is for everyone. These conversations, though, focus on the students who are in general education or have mild or moderate disabilities. In these discussions, never have I heard mention of a person with significant disabilities attending college.
So here’s a thought to ponder. What about the person with significant disabilities who wants to go to college? I mean the person who works extremely hard in school and after achieving all of his/her goals, receives an IEP diploma. I mean the person whose assessments are based on data folios submitted to the state because he/she is not required to take standardized tests. I mean the person who could not take SATs because his/her reading level is first grade, not due to lack of effort but due to the nature of his/her disability. What about these people? In my early days of teaching, I would have said, how could someone who can’t read, can’t take tests and doesn’t have a regents diploma go to college? It makes no sense for them to go, what would they get out of the experience? And I believed that I was right.
Fast forward some years. I attended an inclusion conference in Georgia. I heard Jeff Strully, a wonderful, motivational man, speak. He described a young woman (similarly to this, it was a long time ago) : “ She is 18 years old.” “She is very social.” “She loves to be around people.” “She loves to learn.” “She is a great dancer.” “She wants to go to college.” Then came this description of a young woman: “She is 18 years old.” ” She drools.” ” She needs help traveling.” “She has seizures.” “She reads on a first grade level”. “She wants to go to college.” In his next sentence, we found out that this was the same person, his daughter, and all of the descriptions applied to her. Again, I thought to myself, how can she go to college? What could someone with a first grade reading level, in need of significant supports, get out of college? Boy, did I learn the answer to my questions. Jeff Strully talked about going to college for reasons that were not purely academic. He said college is a natural progression from high school. He said that his daughter wanted to be with her friends and 18 year olds belonged on the college campus. He said that she could audit classes and not be required to do the rigorous academics. She could be with her peer group. She could hang out in the dorms and go to parties. She could go on trips. She could use the natural supports of her friends to help her to be successful in achieving her dream, being on the college campus.
His talk was eye opening for me. After hearing him, I knew that I had to figure something out for my own students who wanted the college experience. I am ashamed to tell you how many times I told a student who said that he/she wanted to go to college the following: “You have to be able to read.” “You have to have a regent’s diploma.” “You have to take SATs.” I wasn’t wrong, I was thinking of the traditional reasons of going to college and the traditional ways to get there. In retrospect, I was also squashing the dreams of my students. How dare I? After hearing Jeff Strully, I had different ideas. Why shouldn’t my students who wanted to go to college, go to college? Why not college inclusion? We did it on the high school level with great results. Our rationale for inclusion was more social than academic. Remember, my students did not take standardized tests, often read on a first grade level and were going to receive IEP diplomas when they completed school. But in the general ed high school, they were exposed to a different level of academics, often resulting in their reading and math improving. They had numerous opportunities to meet and socialize with students in an inclusive setting . They became welcome and valued members of the school community, participating in plays, after school activities, trips and graduation. (still receiving an IEP diploma). If this worked so well in a high school setting, surely it could be transferred to a college setting.
Without going in to all of the details of how we set this up, we approached the dean of education of a college that was used as a work experience site for some of my students. We had an already established, solid relationship, so selling the idea of inclusion was not difficult. The dean was very receptive and wanted to make it work. Logistically it took some figuring out, but after a year, 8 of my students, along with a teacher and a few paraprofessionals were included on the college campus. The students had special auditing status in their classes. Often, paraprofessionals attended the classes with the students to take notes so the teacher could later break down the material and re teach portions of the lessons. The paraprofessionals had to be discreet because my students did not want the stigma of having someone with them. They were in college and it wasn’t cool. We looked for classes that were more hands on, music, film making, physical education, rather than those that were lecture style. The students actively participated in the club hours on campus and also learned to negotiate the very large campus. When I would go to visit, I’d find some of my students having lunch in the cafeteria with their college buddies. This highly successful model was replicated on another college campus so that more of my students could participate.
So despite all the naysayers, I feel, if a person with disabilities wants to go to college, he/she should be able to go. But in order for this to happen it’s time for all of us to think differently. It’s time for schools to look at the ways to support the person who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of college bound student. It’s time to break that mold to fit the needs of that person. It’s time to make today’s colleges fit all of today’s students.