Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I recently started a new job at the local elementary school in their after-school program. The kids are fun and I enjoy them. There is one little boy who reminds me a lot of Charlie. He is a little louder and more energetic than some of the other kids. He tries hard but he is frequently in trouble for not listening. At times I wonder about his home life.

Yesterday I told him I was really proud of him for behaving so well. He proudly told me that his teacher gave him a smiley face. I told him that was great and that his mom would be really happy. After a few seconds he looked up and said, "Miss Stephanie - I love you".

This morning I watched the sky turn bright pink as the sun rose. It made me think of all the things we are thankful for:

Four kids sleeping soundly in their beds, looking forward to spending Thanksgiving at Miss Teresa's house

Their Father who loves them so much

Friends who are so generous with time, attention, love and gifts for the kids

Family who is supportive and loving

I set out to write a little note of thanks on this day before Thanksgiving, and I realize as I write that the common thread is the love that family, friends, acquaintances and sometimes complete strangers show to us and our kids.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us!

Marquel, Annie, Charlie, Chip, Turk

and from Randy and I as well!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Great Christmas Gift Idea!

Do you have a teenager in your life that you love? Or do you love to read books that challenge you deeply? I would like to recommend a new series of books that would make excellent Christmas gifts!

As a fellow author, I have come to know Darryl via the Internet and have been inspired by his work. His experience with "at risk" kids (or "at promise", depending on how you look at it) has been invaluable to us as he offers insight and advice with "our kids".

Fantasy Novel Series: (author's website)

(Click on name of Book to purchase)

by Darryl Markowitz

Darryl taught school in the inner city neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. He developed a deep understanding and knowledge of how teens think and feel and the struggles that they face. His great love for the youth prompted him to write this series of books. While the morals and beliefs are Biblically based, there is no "religion" or "preaching" in them.

Not unlike many of our kids today, the main characters in this series come from a dark place, where all morals and beliefs have been denied. Together they explore, experience and discuss thoroughly the issues that they face. They must come to their own conclusions about life, love and the meaning of their existence.

If the reader is a teenager, they will live through the events and work through the discussions and decisions that Stephanie and Vaughn face, learning with them each step of the way. The sprinkle of fantasy characters makes it very appealing to the teens.

"One of the reasons I wrote what I did is because I witnessed how young people are so often failed by the adult world and I wanted to inspire them to THINK more deeply, FEEL more deeply the preciousness of life and the understanding that promotes the wonder of being a human BEING."
If the reader is an adult or parent, they will appreciate the depth of the subject matter. It is hard to comprehend what our teens think and feel at times. These books will make you examine your own beliefs in a new way.

"I just heard from a fan and she summed up very well the reason I wrote the novels: 'It gave me new insight into this thing we call life, and love and the preciousness of life'. And she said this noting that she herself was older!"

Author's Blurb:

"Today’s political and religious strife have torn our world apart, but the new country with no name vowed to punish and stamp out anyone holding the ‘old’ ways that caused the world’s destruction. One-hundred years later, teenagers Stephanie and Vaughn can’t help challenging everything about their corrupt surroundings, unaware that they are involved in a plot that extends far beyond their little town, their country with no name, and even the world as they know it.

Stephanie sees transparent gray arms reaching inside people’s heads and Vaughn’s vision of a blackness blowing people up from the inside-out leaves him wondering.

What is a faithwalker? Potentially the most powerful person alive -- Earth’s only hope against the coming evils, that is, if they survive the terrible hardships into which they are always born.

Faith in ones abilities, faith in a mere goodness beyond, faith in a friend… they will need all of that and more to keep from dying."

Give the gift of love to all the teens in your life this Christmas!

Until next time . . .


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Children, Poverty and Math

The other night, "our kids" got up in the middle of the night, got dressed and walked the one block to the bus stop. When no other kids were there and the bus did not come, they walked back to their house and rang the doorbell because the door had locked behind them. It was 5:15am when the doorbell awoke their father.

The next book on my reading list is "Whatever It Takes" by Paul Tough. It examines the Harlem Children's Zone project and it's founder Geoffrey Canada. It can be purchased at

The NPR website has a 30 minute interview about the project and the book. I highly recommend it, but in case you don't have 30 minutes to spare, here is a synopsis:

Mr. Canada grew up in Harlem, managed to get himself through college, get a good job and move to the suburbs. Here he discovered other parents were doing things that he did not know about like Baby Einstein and reading to their toddlers, things most of us take for granted. He took these ideas back to Harlem and started the "Baby College", where he recruited pregnant and new mothers to join a class teaching them how to raise their babies in a different way. He then started a charter school that the children could attend to continue the "new" kind of education.

His first group of Baby College graduates now attend this school and the students of this charter school surpass New York's standardized testing in Math. Math is used as a guide to overall performance, because this is where children from poverty fail and eventually drop out.

Many parents (usually single mothers) who live in poverty sincerely want a better life for their children. But because they come from poverty themselves (generational poverty) they do not know how to break out of this cycle. Baby College gives them the tools, knowledge and a path to follow.

We have seen in "our kids" the struggle with Math, but it goes hand in hand with not having the reading and comprehension skills that middle class children learn from the time they are born as parents read to their kids and begin the education process. Things that seem simple to us, such as learning to tell time, are a struggle. They lived in a world where time had no meaning; there was no bedtime, no set time to get up to go to school, no schedule to their lives at all. They learn how to draw a clock in 2nd grade math, but they have a hard time grasping the meaning or relevance in their life.

Every weekend we spend as much time as we can reviewing homework, limiting computer games and TV and encouraging reading instead. Recently we made the kids take a rest time before a late evening of Halloween partying. I suggested that they could take a book to their bed and read if they did not feel sleepy. They were surprised and thoroughly delighted with this idea and it was very quiet in their room for the next hour!

Our kids have benefited greatly from the Communities in Schools mentoring and the tutors that help with Math. I am sure they are not paid enough for what they do, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude, as it reinforces what we have limited time to do on weekends.

Do you have one hour a week that you can volunteer to spend with a child? Can you be a mentor or a tutor? It may be the only chance that child has to take a different path in life.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Trouble the Water" a documentary

Last weekend we went to Austin to view a documentary on Hurricane Katrina called "Trouble the Water". I wasn't sure what to expect or what emotions we might come away with.

As the movie ended, the people in the theatre sat in silence as the credits rolled. Were they interested in all the participants in the movie, or were they experiencing the profound sadness that I felt?

Filmed by a New Orleans native with a newly purchased used video camera, the story is told by Kim and her husband as they record the events going on around them. Their ability to remain calm as the water rose chest deep around their home, their generosity in hoisting neighbors into their attic, the neighbor who helped them escape to higher ground, and their upbeat attitude sprinkled with humor at their situation made the movie. We recognized the accent and lingo that "our kids" use.

The most poignant part was when they managed to trudge through the water to dry ground and found themselves in front of a naval base that was partially closed. The housing units at the base were no longer being used, but the guard at the gate immediately called for backup. With guns pointed at them, they asked if they could spend the night, and when they were refused, they asked if the women and children would be allowed in. Again, they were refused. President Bush later sent the base a letter of commendation for "diffusing a potentially dangerous situation".

After finding their way to Memphis, they were unable to find jobs that paid a living wage. Not really wanting to return to New Orleans, they had no place else to go. Kim's husband got a job working for a contractor and was thrilled to be learning a new trade and earning a wage that allowed him to feel like a productive member of society again.

Kim's mother died when she was young of aids resulting from her drug habits, and Kim was determined to live a life that her mother and grandmother would be proud of. The movie features several of Kim's original songs, sung in rap style but with words that were upbeat and optimistic, yet telling her story of her struggles in life.

Currently this movie is being shown in limited cities, but if you have a chance to see this award winning film, please make an effort to do so. Like the movie advertisement says, "It's not about a hurricane. It's about America."

Learn more and check movie locations at:

Until next time!