Archive for the ‘education’ Category

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Best Books and Reading Lists

January 19, 2017

Last year I started a list, cataloging all the books I read in 2016. I won’t give the number because it’s a lot, and I don’t want to come across as a braggart. I’m a writer, and all writers should be reading. It’s part of my work. By making a list, I review what genres I read most (YA) as well as what I lacked (poetry), and it helps determine what to read this year. There are SOOOOOO many books and only so much time, right?

A lot of people ask me for suggestions, which I always find hard to do. However, now that I have my list, it’s a little easier.

Here are a few of my favorites from 2016 (some were published before 2016- it just took me until 2016 to read them).

Picture Book:

Last Stop on Market Street; Matt De La Pena         

Middle Grade:                                                           

5 Times Revenge; Lindsay Eland

The Thing About Jellyfish: Ali Benjamin 

Young Adult:

Girl in Pieces; Kathleen Glasgow

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

Bone Gap, Laura Ruby          

I will Save You: Matt de la Pena

Adult Fiction:

God Help the Child: Toni Morrison   

Tell the Wolves I’m Home: Carol Rifka Brunt

Everything I Ever Knew: Celeste NG

A Man Called Ove: Fredrik Backman

Trans-Sister Radio; Chris Bohjalian

Short Story:

A Manual For Cleaning Woman: Lucia Berlin

Essay:

Far and Away: selected stories: Andrew Solomon

Non-Fiction:

Between the World and Me; Ta-Nehisi Coates

READ ON!

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March #RESIST

January 4, 2017

 

 

I plan to march. On January 21, 2017, millions of women across the country will be marching to express their voice and taking part in the Women’s March on Washington, while other will march in sister cities around the world. Some people criticize us for being anti-democratic, sore losers, and pinheads, but none of those tags are true. I won’t be marching to protest the vote. I will be marching because women matter. I will be marching because I’m half the planet’s population, and I’m not going away. I choose to march because…

I march because I matter.

I march because I believe in freedom.

I march because I have a voice.

I march because I love my country.

I march because I have daughters.

I march because I have a son.

I march because I have a mother.

I march because I have sisters, a brother, a husband, nieces and nephews and cousins.

I march for my grandmothers and great grandmothers who marched before me.

I march for my father, brothers, grandfathers and ancestors who’ve past and can’t march.

I march because I represent marginalized voices.

I march because we matter.

I march because I love pure democracy.

I march because I choose to march.

I march because I believe choice matters.

I march because I am tired of people telling me how to feel and how to act.

I march because women should not be called fat, or ugly, or pussies.

I march because assault is not okay.

I march because women are more than contestants in a beauty pageant.

I march because I don’t want to be ranked by my looks or my f!#*$@ability.

I march because women have brains.

I march because I believe in good and right and equality.

I march because we need to heal.

I march because women should not be marginalized or minimalized to objects.

I march because women are not lesser human beings.

I march because women should not be afraid to be women.

I march because I love.

I march because I care.

I march because I am not afraid.

I march because I want others to know women matter.

I march because women should be able to choose what they do with their bodies.

I march because when the environment is ignored, women suffer first.

I march because women should not die in backroom, coat hanger abortions.

I march because I care about early childcare initiatives that help women.

I march because locker room talk hurts women.

I march because I have a right to feel safe.

I march because women should not be thrown into poverty because men got them pregnant.

I march because I have a vagina and am not embarrassed or ashamed to say it.

I march because women should be paid what men are paid.

I march because it is time to move forward, move beyond sexism.

I march because I need to feel hopeful about my future.

I march because I don’t want to feel terrified alone.

I march because women working together can transform the planet.

I march because I love and stand with my LGBTQIA, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Black, Brown, indigenous, disabled, ethnic, hurt, abused, and all of my sisters.

I march because we won’t move backward.

I march because we matter.

I march because I matter.

Join me. The organizers for the Women’s March on Washington posted this statement; “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families—recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

If you can’t get to Washington DC, go local! There are over 30 states planning sister marches, including in Colorado. The event in Denver will be 9 am- 3 pm on January 21, 2017 at Denver’s Civic Center Park. For more information and other marches, check out: https://www.womensmarch.com/colorado/

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An Ode to my Kids, and Perhaps to Yours

August 10, 2016

 

Saying goodbye is hard to do. No matter how much you prepare yourself—no one can truly anticipate being so damn sad. Grief flows its own river.

Like many, I’ve had significant loss—in addition to my grandparents; death took my two aunts, my dad, two brothers, and a number of pets. I know how grief works. It grabs you, swallows you, spits you out and repeats until you crash and begin to finally begin again.

This time, my loss is not so permanent; thus not so powerful. That said, good-byes are painful, and change is scary. My oldest child leaves for the University of Colorado this month, altering our family life forever. Ellie will be back, probably with a load of dirty laundry and a need for home cookin’, but she’s gone. Her place at the table will be vacant, her bed empty, and her siblings lonely (okay, maybe not all the time). The happy news? She’s embarking on a grand adventure, starring herself. It won’t be long before my other two leave, too. I’m beyond proud of the people they’ve become, and yet, still sad.

To help me process and understand the tremendous change, I’ve written an ode to my kids; things I hope I’ve taught them. I’m sure I’ve messed up, forgotten things, and have probably failed in some capacity. But that’s parenting. At least I made a list, outlining 25 things I want them to know. Who knows if they’ll heed the advice or grasp the full meaning, I can hope.

  1. I wish you a life of love and know that you are always loved by me
  2. Find good company
  3. Laugh often
  4. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and don’t drink too much alcohol
  5. Call me when you are hurting or happy- I’ll be there
  6. Remember to breathe deeply and that it is enough
  7. Brush your teeth
  8. Be honest- with yourself and with others
  9. Know that life isn’t fair, but it is what you make it
  10. Eat breakfast (more than a Starbucks’ latte, please)
  11. Work hard
  12. Pay your debts (better yet, don’t have any)
  13. Don’t post inappropriate pictures online
  14. Take good risks (don’t jump out a window, but do try a new activity/class)
  15. Read for fun
  16. Know that it is okay to let go
  17. Don’t hold onto anger, guilt, or resentment
  18. See a doctor, an acupuncturist, or a good healer when you are sick
  19. Take your vitamins
  20. Don’t leave a friend alone at a party
  21. Don’t stay alone at a party
  22. Trust your intuition
  23. Be kind
  24. Meet many diverse people
  25. Know this: I am forever grateful for the time we’ve lived together, arguments and all

 

 

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Summer 1977: Can a Kid Survive?

June 14, 2016

The first few days of summer are the best. So good, in fact, that some parents take a day or two off so they might revel in the well-remembered feeling. No more school. No more tests. No more teachers. No more social pressures. No more responsibility. Kids sleep in, hang out in pajamas, and make pancakes. It’s great. Until about the third day.

Summer can become a parent’s nightmare. What if the kids never get out of their pajamas? What if they become zombies? What if they hook themselves to screens with an I-V, and their brains shrivel into peanut-sized capsules?

For today’s parents, the pressure to create a summer experience is on. A child’s summer must be filled with brain-building, developmentally appropriate, and organically filled activities. Life becomes complicated with carpools and play dates and field trips, and before June is over, parents cry for a schedule that does not involve cleaning a kitchen that’s cluttered with bags of chips and boxes of Cheerios. No wonder day camps and summer classes have exploded in popularity.

Call me crazy but how about throwing a TBT day? Throw Back Thursdays to 1977, or for those brave enough, participating in a full week of TBT time travel?

Here’s what it might look like.

Breakfast? Forget about whole-wheat, flax-seed filled pancakes with pure maple syrup and fresh berries. Kids get Applejacks and a sliced orange. In 1977, kids didn’t hang out in pajamas all day so they must get dressed and make their beds. What’s next? That’s their problem, not yours, but here’s an idea: open the door and send them outside. If they’re young, a parent can give them a pail and point to a pile of dirt. There’s no need to sit in the sandbox and create castles by using sophisticated engineering techniques listed in Parenting Magazine. This is 1977. Kids figure it out.

Fancy field trips? Nope. Indoor skydiving and zip-lining adventures have not yet been invented, but there is the library. It might be air-conditioned. Swimming is a crowd pleaser but remember—parents don’t go. Not only is there a lifeguard to watch them flip into cannonballs, but parents didn’t drive their kids places in 1977. During a TBT day, kids ride their bikes to the pool or walk with a group of friends—it gives them time to dry off on the way home.

No pool? Use the hose. Sprinklers are fair game, but there aren’t any fancy slick and slides or super-soakers. Other alternatives? Kids can build forts, which might take all day. Jars of paint and some rocks offer the opportunity for kids to become Picassos. Manic monopoly will likely become a parent’s new best friend—the game can take hours, even days. And when all else fails, a simple deck of cards will do. Even alone, a kid can play solitaire, figure out magic tricks, and build card houses (psssst: engineering skills). In 1977, games rule, especially while drinking red pop and eating marathon bars (the chocolate and caramel kind, not the protein and chia seed kind).

Lunch? Whole Foods did not exist in the disco decade so forget about quick trips for sushi or steamed Korean buns. Stop at McDonalds or ask the kids to make their own sandwiches; peanut butter and jelly or marshmallow fluff, but they could invent something new—like fried bologna and egg with ketchup. Long afternoons? Naps are good. Books are better. Uber-active kids get sent back outside where they invent their own projects. Maybe they’ll build a boat made from milk cartons. Who knows? They’ll figure it out.

Remember, technology is banned during 1977 week. It wasn’t invented. TV screen-time is limited unless there’s a new episode of the Brady Brunch. Game of Thrones and How I met Your Mother did not exist. There were no clickers back then, either. If kids do watch TV, they must get up, walk across the room, and physically flip through channels—all four of them. CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS were the only stations that existed. Also, television went static in the middle of night.

After dinner (hot dogs, Kool-Aid, Jell-O salad, baked beans, and grape popsicles), kids may find a few neighborhood kids and play flashlight tag, but if they’ve played long and hard enough, they might just collapse and fall asleep.

And voila. Like that, a day is done, and you’ve survived 1977. Good luck the rest of the summer.

 

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Ants, Honey, and Human Dependency

May 31, 2016

There is a tree in Nicaragua that is not the tallest tree. It is not the most beautiful tree. It is not a sweet smelling tree. And yet, it is a powerful tree; one that offers wisdom, as all plants do, if one is willing to listen.

Like miniature swords, long spiky thorns poke from the branches of the tree, swearing off enemies. They do their job well. The barbs are sharp and painful, and they hurt. They are also full of honey. Because of the honey, the tree is covered with ants, which bury in the thorns to feed on sweet nectar. In return, the ants pee (ecosystems at their most sophisticated are also often at their most basic) on the tree, offering much-needed liquid, fuel to carry itself through a long dry season. The tree gives food; the ant gives drink.

Magic.

But sadly, perhaps terrifyingly, enchanting global ecosystems are in danger, becoming bewitched. Until I ventured to Central America, I had no idea jungles turn brown. They do. They remind me of Ohio in November, not the most stunning time of the year. The tropical trees drop their leaves, leaving barren branches and matted, crunched-up grasses below. In a perfect world, the rains begin in May, and within a few short weeks, the landscape becomes lush. However, because of global warming, the six-month rainy season has been shortened; hurting crops, farmers, plants, and animals.

But why should we care? We have nothing to worry about: we can buy our bananas at Safeway.

With an increasingly long dry season (I’m sure the same could be said for an extended rainy season), ecosystems all over the world are in danger. John Muir once said, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” ‘Tis true: we are responsible for the future. Will we act the fool? Turn our heads? Or will we come to the realization that although we can buy bananas at Safeway, we share one planet?

Like it or not, we depend on a healthy structured environment, and our world is contingent on a balanced system. Ants and the thorny tree rely on each other to survive. Not only is it a fine balance, but it is also their relationship that makes it work. Many people talk about the need for relationships: with God, families, peers, and partners. And I agree: relationships are essential components to a healthy, vibrant life. I would also add that a strong and equal relationship with our environment is essential.

We can’t take without offering back.IMG_9157

The thorn tree might not be the most beautiful or popular tree in the jungle, but it knows it can’t stand alone. It survives by sharing its nectar with ants. Their relationship is key to their survival. Likewise, our survival as humans is dependent on our relationship with the environment, not just on ‘earth day’ but on all days.

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Tis the Season to Test

March 1, 2016

Sharpen your #2 pencils. Stop. Never mind. Fill in the bubbles correctly. Stop. Never mind. Write your essay clearly. Stop Never mind. Take the test via the computer. Stop. Never mind. The testing procedure has changed. Again.

Tis’ the season for standardized testing, although it’s easy to lose track of which one is being administered. CSAP? TCAP? CMAS? PARCC? NWEA? ACT or SAT? The amount of money spent to create and choose the best test to maintain accountability is mindboggling. In the end, does testing do any good? Do tests make our kids smarter? do they make students better writers? Do they make our teachers better or our schools more productive? Do tests accurately measure a person’s intellect? What about a student’s physical or emotional well-being: can a test measure health and happiness? Shouldn’t values and integrity go hand in hand with lesson plans, and if so, how does a test cover that? This blog is full of questions—just like a test.

In most American public schools, standardized tests are administered in the spring, giving teachers the ability to teach to the test for most of the school year. But don’t blame the teachers—they get tested, too. In 2001, the Bush administration designed No Child Left Behind, launching the obsession with test success, and although NCLB is no longer in place, testing remains an essential ingredient in public schools.

Should communities continue to support educational systems that measure success by a test score? I don’t think so. Very rarely will an exam measure creativity; or for that matter, passion, perseverance, and responsibility. Tests don’t make kids better writers. They might make them nervous writers, but not better writers. A writer learns to write well by reading widely and practicing often: not once a year on a test.

As a writing instructor at Colorado Mountain College, I will also say this: some of my most successful students are not those who scored perfect SAT scores. They are students who’ve shown drive and determination. They’re students who’ve experienced life and have found ways to make sense of their world, creating their success through effort and true grit.

It is possible for schools to assess progress without a standardized testing system. Many charter schools, private schools, and a few brave and progressive public schools use alternative measures, some of them outside the box and others radically simple. Games and collaborative activities can be used to develop critical thinking. A student who shows up every day for a clarinet lesson or basketball practice will learn something about dedication, effort, and results. Some progressive schools develop student portfolios, measuring progress and knowledge by a body of work, rather than by an exam. A test is not the only measure of success. An environment where students are encouraged to express themselves creatively can result in healthier, less anxious people.

I recently read an article about a teacher in Kentucky who’d ordered a newfangled push-pedal contraption that her kindergartners used under their desks, keeping them physically engaged while working. Really? How about letting kindergartners run around a playground for twenty minutes? During standardized test weeks, many principals and teachers remind parents to feed their students a healthy breakfast and to make sure they get plenty of sleep. Am I missing something, or isn’t it important for kids to eat healthy breakfasts and sleep well all the time? What message do we send by spending so much effort preparing for a test?

Let’s let kids write: write creatively, write for fun, write to practice, write to journey, write to express themselves; but not to be tested.