Posted in Education

The End, Finally

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I just typed “The End” on another school year. Wow. That one went by fast. It seems like we were just at our welcome back breakfast, and settling into the routine of the new year, with new teachers, new students, and new challenges.

Yesterday we said goodbye to our Fifth graders. This class will have a special place in my heart because I started as a staff member with them in Kindergarten. I’ve watched them grow up as a class and I’m proud to have worked with them from when they were just learning how to write their name, on through their state reports. I helped them sound out -at family words and listened to them read aloud from Old Yeller. One girl was so timid in first grade she wouldn’t read aloud or spell phonetic words until she watched what the others responded with. I had her in my small reading group again in second grade, and finally in third. But the end of third grade, she started reading with confidence and expression and by fifth grade she really shines, academically and as a kind, thoughtful person.

I can share similar stories about many of these kids, how they were quiet (or not), timid five and six year olds when they started, and are now confident, smart, funny, caring, and not so-quiet ten and eleven year olds.

I worked with a lot of third graders this year, too. For many of them, their biggest challenge is to not rush through and guess. I call them my auto-correctors. I tell them they are smarter than an iPhone, they don’t have to guess after the first two letters of a word. They can look at the whole word, break it down, using the tools we’ve been working on all year long. And slow down on the hard words.

I’ve got two more years with those kiddos.

We also said goodbye to our Principal. She was my sons’ teacher before leaving us and then coming back to replace our former beloved principal. Her son was also a teammate of my younger son’s in Little League, so we sat through many practices and games together rooting for that team that would not be named. As Giants fans, we just couldn’t say the team in blue’s name aloud, but we cheered like crazy for each kid on the team.

Now it’s time for summer. To rest. For me, I will work on my next book series, and hopefully get a few projects done around the house. And before I know it, it will be August, and the start of a new year, with a new Principal.

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Posted in Education, Uncategorized

Making A Difference, Part 2

This morning I wrote a short post about how I need to see the little things I do on a daily basis can make a difference for the kids I work with. It was sort of a pep talk to get me in the right frame of mind to face the day and the challenges ahead.

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By this afternoon, I had tears in my eyes. But they were the good kind. Because a group of fifth graders inspired me and made me so proud to be a part of their education.

I started working with most of these kids in Kindergarten. There were a lot of them, four classes with about five or six more students than when my kids were that age. There were enough volunteers to provide some support, but not enough to give them the best start in school. So the district hired three aides, or paraeducators, to rotate through the classes and give each student that extra attention they needed.

That was the year I went from being a parent volunteer to paid staff. Over the years, I’ve added hours and changed roles based on the needs of the students.

But back to the kids. These are the kids I’ve worked with all six years. I helped many of them go from not being able to write their name or open their milk carton to reading multi-syllabic words and being able to open their Gogurt without getting it in their hair. We went from making ABC books to researching on their Chromebooks. We learned about seasons and the solar system, geology and the Gold Rush, farm animals and fractions.

Today the my fifth graders held a Living Wax Museum. After weeks of research and preparation, they arranged themselves around the classroom, dressed as famous people throughout history as students, school staff, parents, and a pair of police officers from our community came through the exhibit. Each character stood still until someone pushed a button on their poster and they would then give three to five facts about their famous person.

It was amazing. I learned about Edison and Elvis. Jackie Robinson and Jackie Kennedy. Steven Spielberg, Stan Lee, and Sally Ride. Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Houdini. Anne Frank and Annie Oakley. Malala Yousafzai and Marie Curie. Walt Disney and Willie Mays. Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter. J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, and Dr. Suess. Princess Diana and President Kennedy. Bob Marley and Ben Franklin. Laura Ingalls Wilder and  Leonardo Da Vinci. Deborah Sampson and a few more I can’t recall because by the time I got to all of them, I had a few goosebumps.

These kids stayed in character (for the most part) in position (really hard, especially after being cooped up for rainy days on end) and replayed their message to at least four classes.

And every single one of them did an outstanding job. Even if they forgot their lines, they kept going, improvising with other facts they’d learned about their character. They stood or sat in place while other classes made their way around the room, sometimes skipping over a person they didn’t know about, or coming back and pressing their buttons only seconds after they just finished speaking.

Did I mention how amazing they were? How they inspired all of the adults in the room? How they made us sigh, and cry a little at how lucky we are to work in public education?

Posted in Education

Making A Difference

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Yesterday was a rough day. You see, I work in public education. In fact I have worked in some aspect of public education for more than twenty years. I have been a student, a teacher, a parent, a volunteer. I have served on Site Council, District Budget Committee, Parent Club. I now work as a Paraeducator. My job entails working with some of the neediest kids. And they’ve been stuck inside with this endless rain. They need their recess.

They need a lot of things. Things that people who don’t work closely with them have no idea.

But I do work closely with them. And I can help them become more confident readers. I can help them learn about irregular vowel patterns, and spelling by syllables. I can help them with their math, learning their ABCs. I can help them understand key details and the main idea. I can help them tie a shoe, get their lunch, open an umbrella. I can applaud their biography report, their part in the Aesop’s Fable performance. I can offer them a smile, a hug, a high five.

I help them live our school norms of Be Kind, Be Safe, Be Your Best. I will remind them to walk. To return their focus on the lesson not the fact that it is raining. Again. I will encourage, support, redirect, and remind myself why I’m there.

For the kids. For the love of learning. Because I can make a difference, even if it’s a small one in the broad scheme of things. I have to remember that for each one of those kids, their school is their world. Not their whole world, but a big part of it. And when they see me at the store, their eyes light up, and they smile and they tug on their parent’s hand and say, “She’s from my school.”

 

 

Posted in Adventure, Books, Education, Road Trip, Teenagers, Writing

End Of Summer Blues

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My youngest son started his Freshman year of high school yesterday. His brother will start college in two weeks. And I will go back to work at the elementary school on Thursday. A lot of people complain about school starting so early. They didn’t go back until after Labor Day. The reason for the early start is to finish the first semester before Christmas break. Which means no studying for finals over the holiday. No major projects due the day after New Years. I’m good with that.

The hard part for me isn’t the day on the calendar. It’s all the things I was going to accomplish over the break. Cleaning out the closets, re-covering the patio chairs, redoing the second shower that has been unusable for months. Staining the deck. Finishing the second AND third books in my Swift River Romance series.

Add in a family vacation, which could be our last with our oldest son since he’s taken a job as a whitewater guide and will be working the whole summers for the foreseeable future.

Let’s see, what did I accomplish this summer? Besides catching up on my sleep?

I finished the second book, while we were on our family vacation. We took a road trip to Jackson, Wyoming. We were able to stay at our cousin’s place in Wilson, we took day trips to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and the boys were able to explore bike trails in the area while I worked in the shadow of the Tetons.

 

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And I ordered the parts for the shower, calculated the tile needed, and I’m in the process of trying to figure out what to do about the fact that the tile we have is about eight square feet short of what we need. And since the tile I want to use is about ten years old, it’s going to be really hard to get an exact match. I’m thinking I’m going to have to find something in a similar texture but a different color. Darker, maybe. Then there’s the demolition of the old tile and getting a plumber in to do the inside parts of the shower so I can tile the walls after ward. It’s going to have to be a weekend warrior project.

I attended the Romance Writers of America annual convention in San Diego. Had a wonderful time meeting other authors, taking workshops on craft and finding my readers, meeting with my publisher, and celebrating the world of Romance.

My fifth book, Swept Away, was released. This is the first of three books in the Swift River Romance series.

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I went through the editing process on In Too Deep, the second book in the series and I’m working on Diving In, the third book.

I’m working on a proposal for a new series.

We have taken a couple of trips down the American River in our ancient raft. We even got to see our oldest son while he was working and did our best to embarrass him by asking if he remembered his sunscreen when he paddled past us.

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We attended a wedding and a Bar Mitzvah. We’ve taken a couple of day hikes, gone swimming, and spent some time at our family cabin near Mt. Shasta.

So I guess it was a good summer, even if it felt too short. I have a feeling they’re only going to get shorter.

 

Posted in Baseball, Education, Writing

Back To School Means There Are Rules

It’s that time of year again. Kids are back in school, or will be shortly. And that means new teachers, new classrooms, sometimes even new schools. This is the first year I’m staff only at the elementary school where I work. I’m a paraeducator, or teacher’s aide for part of the day and yard duty for part of the day. My kids have moved on to high school and middle school.

We go back on a Thursday in our district. That way we only have two days of settling in and going over the rules before we have a full week for jumping right into classwork and assessments. Which means, it takes until the following Monday or Tuesday before people start breaking the rules.

The one that bothers me the most is the drop-off line. At the middle school where my youngest son now attends, there is a huge backup. So people get impatient. And they start ignoring the rule for where to let their student out of the car. There is a sign on the sidewalk that says “NO PARKING. NO STOPPING. NO STANDING.” So that is where half the kids get out of their cars. The driver still needs to go through the designated drop off area in order to get back to the street.  By letting their student off at the sidewalk,it saves one whole minute.

But really, what are you teaching your children? That rules are meant to be broken? Convenience is more important than safety? Your time is more valuable than mine?

I am also a staff member at the elementary school. Our campus was built long before traffic became an issue. There is no easy way to get to the campus. The front of the school is for buses only. Narrow streets and hills make access difficult. Add in the road work and tree trimming the city has decided to start the same week as back-to-school time, and I get that it’s a major pain in the patootie to get to school. I did it for ten years.

How do you think your child should start their day? With a “Good morning. I like your backpack/new shoes/Giants t-shirt/smile.” Or “Could you remind your mom/dad/grandparents/babysitter that you’re not supposed to be dropped off in the back lot? They can park there and walk you up, or drop you off in the designated drop-off spot.” I’d tell the parents that, but they already ignored the permanent sign at the entrance of the parking lot, the neon green sign tacked to the back wall, and the friendly reminders in the weekly newsletter. They also peeled out of the lot before I could catch them, and instead of chasing them down, I was greeting the children and reminding them to walk, helping tie a shoe, or admiring a homework project.

We have really great kids at our school. Eager to learn, willing to please, and sometimes torn between doing what their teachers and support staff tell them to do and what their parents tell them. How confusing for our youngsters who are dropped off late and told to “Run.” But then they’re reminded to “Walk, please.”

Trust me, we don’t spend our unpaid summers off thinking up ways to make your day more difficult. We want what you want, a safe, secure environment for your children so we can focus on helping your children learn.

Rules exist for a reason. Most of the time, the intentions are good. Safety for instance. Imagine approaching an intersection and no one obeyed the traffic signals. Red light? Green light? Doesn’t matter, each driver is going to go when they feel like it. Ever sit at a four way stop sign and watch two cars from one side go before you get your turn? It ticks you off, doesn’t it? What about when you approach at the same time as another car and neither of you go. Then you both start. Then stop. Whose turn is it? We could be here all day.

I’m a fairly new author, even though I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. But when I joined a professional writers group, Romance Writers of America, I learned there were many rules about writing. These are in addition to the basic rules of grammar and the English language.

Imagine a book written without spaces or punctuation. It could contain the most brilliant insights into the human experience, but I wouldn’t want to read it. Too much work. Or what about a romance that the hero and heroine never meet or interact with each other? Sorry, not interested. And spare me the book that does not have a satisfying ending. There are some ideas that need to stay inside the box. For me, a happy ending is a must. Especially in romance.

There are some rules that can be broken. Or rather, revised. When I was in school, shorts were not allowed. Now even teachers wear shorts on 90+ degree days. But there is still a dress code. Shorts that are way too short are still not allowed. Students are given loaners to wear for the day.

One of the “rules” that seems to be falling by the wayside in the publishing world is the “don’t write athlete heroes” in romance. Sorry, gonna have to break that one. I love sports. Always have. And yes, I like athletes. In high school I kept clippings of both pro and local games. I put pictures of game winning touchdowns in my locker. Not because I had a crush on the player, but because it was a great shot. I have favorite professional athletes I enjoy watching. I follow a lot of players’ wives on Twitter. I admire their husbands’ athleticism, skill, and yeah, hunky physiques.

My book heroes tend to be athletes. Right now I’m working on a series featuring baseball players. I know a lot about the game. More than I do about say, firefighting or ranching or pirating the high seas. Plus I can combine my favorite things about several ballplayers and morph them into one ideal character. Add in a few traits of my husband’s, and I’ve got the perfect (fictional) man. He’s tall, strong, honorable, 100% faithful and he’s not afraid to do the dishes.