Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ohio's School Battle Reaches Beyond Our Borders

Parents all over Ohio are joining together to preserve our school choice options as our Governor tries to undo all of that and send each and every child back to public schools. He is strongly supported by teacher unions who apparently believe that all children fit the same mold and need to attend school in the same way. Or at least they want the money that follows them.

The Washington Post published this op-ed piece. It stands on it's own merits and needs no further comment. It can be found at http://washingtonti mes.com/op- ed/20070421- 103501-7869r. htm. I have posted it here as well:

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has some explaining to do. He plans to gut the state's school-voucher program, ending a two-year statewide experiment building upon 12 years of vouchers in the city of Cleveland. Through EdChoice, 2,829 students around the country(I believe this should have read State) receive vouchers to attend private and parochial schools instead of failing local public ones. But Mr. Strickland now intends to send those students back to those crummypublic schools, allegedly as an act of fiscal prudence. How insulting. Thesavings: $13 million, in a two-year budget totalling $52 billion.

Mr. Strickland should explain to these thousands of students why their education is not worth a tiny fraction of the state budget. He should explain why he and other Democratic stewards managed to find additional money for half the state agencies that squealed for more after the budget's unveiling last month, as the Associated Press reported. The squeal money includes $2.6 million to fund Department of Commerce mortgage-broker applicants' background checks and, as the AP also reported, $50,000 for the Ohioana Library Association, whose trustees include Mr. Strickland's wife, Frances. Mr. Strickland also managed to find $2.5 million to install soy biodiesel tanks and pumps at Ohio gas stations. The list goes on.

The governor should explain why students who happen to live in Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus or Dayton do not deserve the same opportunities as those in Cleveland. They are allowed to continue to participate in the state's 12-year-old voucher program. The farce of the "not enough money" line is belied by the size and scope of spending, none of which unduly punishes Mr. Strickland's allies or deals similar death blows to programs used by groups who vote. Take teachers'unions. This budget may not be a dream for those union bosses, but it nevertheless contains several hundred million more dollars for public schools -- slated to receive a 3 percent annual budget increase. Or seniors. The budget funds burgeoning Medicaid costs. Seniors vote, remember.

Mr. Strickland is better advised to admit the truth: This is a cave-in to jealous teachers' unions. The unions make no secret of their hatred for vouchers, which lose funding when pupils decamp for private or parochial schools where their future prospects greatly improve. Democrats like Mr.Strickland need to pay some kind of dividend to these unions once they help propel party members to office. It's bad policy that Mr. Strickland would kill a voucher program at their behest. But it is also shocking and unconscionable that he would try to pass it off as "fiscal restraint." Tell that to the voucher recipients he just robbed of a decent education.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I Wuv You, Too!

I was relaxing after all of the necessary chores had been completed, enjoying some light reading. My son Matthew leaned down to check out the book and then asked whether it was good or not as he laid down beside me. He's recently become a reader although his choices usually involve some war materials, research on early planes, guns and such. I think I'm just happy he's reading. Anyway, I could tell this there was some more serious conversation coming so I said a quick pray and asked what was on his mind.

In his very teenage way he proceeded to say that he'd just been talking to a friend who didn't really know that her parents loved her. They never said it to her, she never got a hug from them, and she felt they just disciplined her excessively because they didn't like her. I knew that he was saying how wonderful it was that we did indeed tell him at least once a day that we loved him and that hugs were plentiful around here, but I've learned to just let the implied statement stand on its own. I let him talk some more and then I asked him a few questions. We were able to talk about the fact that indeed a parent's job is to provide guidance and discipline for our children, and by doing so, express our love for them. We also talked about the fact that some people aren't taught how to express love in the same ways we are doing it in our house and that it isn't right or wrong, but sometimes one way makes us feel better more often. We were also able to agree that grounding a teenager from a lot of distractions like the computer, video games and such for awhile because they got a bad grade on their report card certainly seemed logical, and indeed was the actions of a parent who really did love their child. But he kept going back to the one thing that really bothered him. "But Mom, they never tell her they love her."

Indeed, telling our children we love them should be a daily occurrence. It should happen through action: taking care of them, providing boundaries for them, being consistent in what we say and do, leading by example and so on. It should happen through prayer: as you pray for them, their future choices, their future spouse and even what teachers they might have next year or helping them to grow in something they are struggling with at the time. It should happen through quantity time as well as quality time as we make them a priority in our lives. And it should happen through regular, daily contact with them as we hug them and tell them we love them. Sometimes you can tell them why you love that that day but they really just need to hear that you love them. Just because they are yours. Just because they are standing there at that moment. Just because.

I don't realize how often we say "I love you" in our house until moments happen like those with Matthew, or I overhear one of Jonathan's friends saying "Do you have to hug and kiss your Mom every time you leave the house???" (His response was "No, but it's nice and I miss her when I'm gone.") And when I hear it coming from the youngest member in our household. Laura was running by Matthew just moments ago and she came to a complete stand still, looked up at him with the biggest smile, said "Mattchew, I wuv you, too!" and then took off to settle down in front of Caillou. Matthew's face lit up as he turned back to his studies. Yes, spreading love is one of the things we do well here.

Indeed, "I wuv you, too" is Laura's standard phrase whether she's saying it before someone else says it or after. She knows that everyone in the house, and even those family members who only come over once or twice a month love her. She why shouldn't she "wuv you, too"?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Matthew's School Choice

Here in Ohio, our latest Governor is attempting to take away our current school choice options. It is his opinion that the money that is being given to Charter Schools, including the voucher system and e-schools, is what is causing public brick and mortar schools to fail. Since his campaign was funded by teacher unions, it seems he's all about not admitting that the school system has had issues for many years, LONG before school choice existed here in Ohio. But I won't go in to the politics of it all.

Today, tomorrow and Thursday, parents are being offered the opportunity to testify before the education subcommittee. Matthew's school is taking their entire staff down for the day on Wednesday and several of them will be testifying. Here's the letter I sent for them to read on my behalf:

Dear Representatives,

I’m writing to you today to let you know that it is critical to continue to fund school choice without restrictions not imposed upon brick and mortar schools. Charter schools provide an opportunity for students whose needs are not being met at the local school to find success elsewhere. They also give us an opportunity to teach our children the values and traditions we believe are important for them to grow into productive, contributing citizens.

The Governor has said that all children ‘deserve’ a public school education. Indeed, all children deserve an education, the best we as parents can provide. It is also true that not all children need to be schooled in a building in their neighborhood to be enrolled in the public school system to get the best. Charter schools give us as parents the opportunity to place our children in the best environment for them. Our children are not all cut from the same mold and respecting differences is a foundation of our country. We must continue to be given the opportunity to make the best choices for our individual children. Do not take Ohio backwards. Continue to be a leader in funding opportunities that help make our children all that they can be.

My family’s story is not unique. Many parents here today, and across the State, have a story very similar to mine. However, I think it is important for you to hear it to remind you of the lives you hold in your hands, the futures you can impact, and the families you touch with the stroke of a pen.

Nine years ago our family was in a time of transition. We were moving to a new area and knew that my son would be starting school that fall. Because my children’s success is so very important to us, we chose where to purchase our home by comparing school districts as well as other community assets. After narrowing down our city to Strongsville, we began visiting the local elementary schools, interviewing staff and observing classrooms. We then purchased our home in the neighborhood that was served by what we determined to be the best school for our family.

Happily we sent them off for several years to good teachers who taught them well. As our family situation changed allowing me to be a stay at home mom, I used my experience as a former teacher and school administrator to help the school in any way I could. As a member of the PTA and as a classroom volunteer, I had good relationships with the teachers as well as the Principals. Our boys were successful and achieving. Then things began to change. My oldest son began coming home hating school. He was starting to fail in classes that he’d been very successful in previously. His teacher had no explanation for it and we didn’t either.

The following year found him begging me to homeschool him. Each day he’d come home emotionally drained and feeling very defeated. Not because the academics were too hard, but because he was being quietly bullied by those who knew how to do it without staff members seeing it. Then it began to trickle in the neighborhood after school as well. My once active, friendly child was being lost before our eyes. The Principal said nothing was happening at school. His teachers never noticed anything, even when he told them what happened. Then our quiet, little elementary school was dealing with kids who brought knives to school and a suspected predator attempted to talk a child in to getting in his car. I promptly made the decision to homeschool him.

While I was researching curricula, I discovered that Ohio had a wonderful program where we would still be accountable to the public education program and have assistance when we needed it. I embraced the E-School concept and enrolled my son. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Enrolling in BOSS has changed him from the inside out. In the past two years he has gone from being a silent, sullen child who felt like he no longer belonged anywhere to one of the leaders in his circle of friends. He no longer is failing any classes, and is, in fact, making straight A’s. He is no longer bullied on a daily basis. His is a happy, interested young man who is living life again. He loves the interaction he has with his teachers and friends in the ‘virtual’ classroom, and he is self-motivated in completing his assignments. If something interests him, he often researches above and beyond what he’d ever have done previously like building Mayan ruins to scale in intricate detail, making satellites from Legos and other building materials, and writing about them.

His academic skills have grown tremendously as he’s able to further investigate things that interest him. This year he’s becoming quite proficient in several subjects including WWII, the Vietnam War, and tracking our involvement in the Iraq War and how it impacts us as Americans in a Global sense, and the mechanics of flight, early airplanes and early engines. No, these things aren’t in his curriculum. They are extra things he’s chosen to learn on his own. Many conversations happen daily in our home where he shares what he’s learned, asks questions to help him figure out more about what he doesn’t know and figures out what resources he can use to find answers to his questions. Weekly trips to the library are the norm for us now. He often interacts with the librarians as they help him find what he needs and teaches him how to find it later on his own. He is even keeping a journal of his discoveries. And he reads books on his own. Large chapter books that would previously have been discarded are carried into the car as we run errands, or go to appointments, and are read each night before he turns out his light.

He does all of this because he is schooled at home. Because he has the support and help of the teachers and staff at BOSS where he’s encourage to excel, to meet both their goals and his own. Because staff members take the time to see that he is successful and working at his own ability level. My once average son who had no ability to see a successful future, now desires to be a part of the PSEO program when he’s in High School. He now sees a future that includes college because he knows he can be successful. He will be successful because he’s had the extraordinary opportunity to learn at home under the guidance of qualified teachers, at our dining room table.

BOSS not only gave my son the opportunity to grow in to a young man without having to deal with the constant emotional baggage of public middle schools, but they’ve allowed him to grow and achieve in ways he’d never have dreamed before. I can’t even begin to imagine what his life would be like if BOSS weren’t there for us. I encourage all of you to realize that different children need different options, and virtual schooling is an option that MUST be funded in order for our children to continue to succeed in life.


It is my hope that we indeed make a difference. I know it has made a difference for my son.

Monday, April 02, 2007

These Hands

One morning this past weekend Laura asked for "moor milt pease". In opening the new carton I happen to glance down at my hands. I smiled and looked up expecting to see my Mom standing next to me. But no. She wasn't there. I looked down again. Yes, her hands were here, why wasn't she?

Indeed I have my Mother's Hands. Hands that loved and caressed me when I was unhappy because I thought some injustice had been done, or when I was so happy I just had to share it with the most important person in my life. Hands that loved me by getting the stains out of my clothes and matching my socks. Hands that washed upteen dishes that were just used by those same hands to make good, home-cooked meals. Hands that dusted bookcase after bookcase filled with good books those hands collected. Hands that taught me to dig weeds and plant young tomato plants. Hands that taught me to bake for a crowd and enjoy 'planned overs'. Hands that helped me finish projects for school and type term papers that were almost late. Hands that sent me out the door with a hot breakfast on my way to class and a lunchbag packed with whatever else I'd need to eat that day. Hands that are folded in prayer, day after day, year after year as they honored our heavenly Father. Hands that can write grants, console clients and manage several full time jobs and then with joy, hold much younger hands as she takes them for a hike in the woods. Hands that continue to teach us to embrace family, even as our family grows and changes as the years go on. Hands that know just when to do something to help and when it is time to be still. Hands that know what it means to work hard and love gently. Hands that raised a successful family and continues to support them no matter what. Hands that I love more than my own.

But now I realize they are my own. Aging has changed my hands from young, busy ones to older, more experienced, stonger ones. Hands that are just like my Mom's, working at the same things as I raise a family, cook, clean, teach and train, mold and guide. Hands that do so with confidence and the comfort of knowing I'm doing my best because they've been trained by those who have gone before them. Hands that have strength. Hands that have character. Hands that are loving because they are loved.

I hope that when the time comes for Laura to look down in her 40's and see my hands that she'll know the same pride that I feel now. I've finally grown in to my Mom's wrinkled, scarred, tender hands. I hope that I do them justice.