Memorial Day

 

041911 (88)

On this Memorial Day 2016, I can’t help but remember the family that have served to help make, and keep, our county free.  I have so many ancestors that have served that I feel very attached to every single conflict that our country has been involved in.

Going back in time, my father served in Laos during the Vietnam Conflict, both my grandfather’s served in World War II,  my great grandfather served in World War I; numerous ancestors served in the Civil War, the War of 1812 and my 5x great grandfather was named the “Daddy of the Revolution” by Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not

Whenever I think of my grandfather, I think of a story that he used to tell about his time in the army.  Like most youngsters, he felt the need to sign up after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  On May 2, 1942 he enlisted.  Like many enlisted men, he had lied about something in order to be eligable for englistment.

You see, my grandfather had a degenerative eye disorder called retinous pigmentosa.  RP basically takes your peripheral vision and dim light vision from you, making it so you can’t see to the side or see at night.  You end up with only a pinpoint of clear vision.  It is a progressive disease that starts off small and eventually completely blinds you.  Basically, he was legally blind from the age of 18.

He was shipped out to basic training at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana.  He was young and like most young men, thought that he had the world at his fingertips.  Other than his eyesight, he was a very healthy young man.  To keep his commanders in the dark about his disability, he would follow the other young men in his company.  His commanders thought he was a good soldier until one day in July 1942.  You see, one day while on a run, he ran into a tree.

1942.05 (1) - Neilsen.Lorry - Army Company

Company “F”, 344th Engineer Regiment, Camp Claiborne, Louisiana – May, 1942

Later in life, he would laugh about it, saying that he almost knocked himself out!  The base doctor’s were obviously concerned and did an eye exam, testing his peripheral vision and night vision.  Obviously, he did not have the sight that would help him with being a soldier.  He would not be able to keep an eye on his fellow soldiers or be able to see if they were in trouble.

So, on July 19, 1942 he was honorably discharged from the United States Army.  Even though he was only in the army for a few months, the army still took care of him.  He was a veteran.  Just like any other veteran, he was honored, and is still honored, every Memorial Day.  I am proud of my family roots on this Memorial Day, proud that I can say that my family helped make, and keep, this country free.  Enjoy your day off America, but remember that it was bought and paid for with many lives.

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Love When David Wins!

I have a typical David vs. Goliath story for you today.  As our school district goes through huge changes in the next year there have been many questions that need answering.  Some of those questions are easy, some, not so much.  As we move from a junior high model to a middle school model, many district task forces have been formed to answer these questions.  I am actually on one of those reconfiguration task forces as a staff member, community member and parent.

Currently our junior high schools have a popular program called Self-Select Challenge.  The program allows students and parents to select more challenging classes in the core subjects.  The purpose, to be better prepared for AP/IB classes when they enter high school and to challenge those students who tend to get bored in regular classes.  The debate over the fate of the challenge program has erupted in our community over the last nine months, with passion on both sides of the issue.  Our wonderful school board gave the responsibility of a recommendation for this program to my task force.  We, in turn, created a sub-committee who could spend the in-depth time required to make such a decision.

As the school year continued, the sub-committee spent hours upon hours pouring over data provided to them by school district administrators.  Unfortunately, as I personally have found out, district administrators always have an agenda.  The provided data supported their desired outcome, to eliminate the challenge program and create heterogenous classrooms with the challenge curriculum.  The sub-committee presented four options to the task force and we voted on our level of support for each of the options.   Myself and one other task force member voted to keep the self-select challenge program.  The four options were then forwarded onto the school board with the votes from the task force.  The board deleted two of the options, leaving two options to choose from.

The first option was challenge classes for all students and the second was challenge classes for all 6th graders and self-select challenge for 7th/8th graders.  Over the last nine months, many people have testified before the school board regarding the challenge program.  I myself, sent a letter to the school board explaining my position.  Up until last night, I had abstained from testifying before the board.  However, as one of only two task force members to support keeping the program, I thought it was time.  Below is my speech standing up for what is right for all students, not just some.

 

“Good evening,

My name is Leah Williams.  I am a lifelong community member, district staff member, Middle School Task Force member and, most importantly, a parent.  I am here to address the decision on the challenge program.  I do not need to be here, however, as one of only two task force members to support keeping the challenge program, I felt it was important for me to speak.

I do not need facts, figures and studies to know that challenge for all would be a huge mistake.  My own children have had struggles with regular classes; my son being forced into a remedial class because he failed the [state test] by a few points, my daughter forced to sit at the “kitchen table” during lunch at [her junior high] because she had a failing grade.  In both instances, my children were humiliated by letting the entire school know that they were in trouble.  By being in a remedial class, my son was only able to do one semester of an elective because he is a band student.

If challenge for all is selected, these remedial classes and interventions will grow with more and more students made to feel bad about their individual learning abilities.  I say individual, because that is how we should be looking at our students.  Grouping them together in an accelerated class will hold some students back and make more students struggle.

I also wanted to address a previous board meeting.  The disrespect that staff members showed towards students and parents made me ashamed to be a staff member.  Yes, I am only a bus driver, but up until that night, I was always proud to be a part of [our district].  I could not believe the callous behavior of our staff walking out and not listening to differing opinions especially from their own students.

This brings up another point.  More staff than you know support keeping the challenge program, but they are afraid to speak out.  They are afraid of retaliation from the [teacher’s union], other staff and administrators.  I fully expect repercussions from my speaking tonight, whether it be getting kicked off the task force, or administration trying to find ways to fire the trouble maker.  Retaliation is rampant in our district.  I must say, however, that I don’t mind being called a trouble maker, I am just taking after my ancestors.  Thank you.”

 

Of course, I was shaking the entire time that I was speaking and ended up with tears by the end.  Many people spoke before and after I did last night, mostly supporting keeping the challenge program.  Two students presented the board with personal surveys that they had taken of their fellow students.  What a concept?!?  Ask the students what they want!  No adult has asked the students what they want.  After the public speakers were finished the board took a short break as it had been about 2 hours of commentary.  During the break I had about a dozen people approach me and thank me for my words and bravery.  I must say, I did not feel brave, more scared to death!  However, I am passionate about doing what is right and not what is easy.

As the vote approached, the board members started explaining why they would vote the way they would.  I could tell that four out of the five struggled with this decision.  The one who did not struggle obviously did not listen to a word anyone said to him and had his mind already made up before the meeting even began, as he had a prepared speech.  In the end, David, the community and students, won out against Goliath, the district administration and the teacher’s union.  The board voted 3-2 to support keeping the challenge program.  As scared as I was to speak in front of all those people, I am really glad I did.  Congratulations David!  I am so happy to support your victory over Goliath!

Rough Times

Bothell Strong

It’s been a rough week in our small town.  I call our town small, but really it isn’t.  Our town has grown much in the last 10 years, with large parcels of land being sold to developers and homes upon homes being built.  However, I still consider us a small town.  I grew up here when it was considered the boonies.  We still have a parade on the 4th of July where people set up lawn chairs weeks in advance.  Those chairs will sit on the parade route unmolested until the actual parade.  When something happens, like a house fire, our community rallies behind that family immediately, helping replace anything that they may need.  This is why I still consider us a small town.

On Thursday May 19, a teacher at our high school was senselessly beaten over the head and strangled while in his classroom after school was let out for the day.  Luckily, he was able to stagger out of the classroom to be discovered by another staff member.  The school went on lockdown for the next 3 hours while they searched for the suspect.  Thankfully my son was home for the evening, but other kids and staff were not.  Mercifully the teacher’s injuries were not very serious and he was released from the hospital that evening.

Of course, in this day and age of social media and electronics, rumors began to fly about the attack before the lock down was even lifted.  Rumors of what was used to attack him and who may have done it abounded online and over texts.  Some students began to make a joke out of the situation.  Thankfully most students shamed those idiots and reported them to police.  If you have the balls to make fun of a situation like this, they may know something about the attacker and deserve to have the cops knock on your door.

Most of the students were in complete shock, as was our entire community.  School was cancelled for Friday because that area of the school was considered an active crime scene.  My son used it as a day of reflection and also a day to catch up on some homework.  I kept asking him how he was doing, and he would reply “I’m fine.”  He did not actually take any classes from the teacher that was assaulted, so I think it really didn’t hit him very hard.  Those students who actually had classes with the teacher and the staff have been hit the hardest.  The district brought in counselors for the staff on Friday so that they would be ready to support students when they returned to class today.  I’m so glad they did!

Of course, the police have brought in the FBI to help with the investigation, but four days later, they still do not have a suspect.  They have been poring over countless security tapes from the school and from buses that were at the school around the time of the attack, collecting evidence and conducting interviews.  It all takes time, but I believe the community is chomping at the bit for information, to no avail.  I myself have been trying to support the students that I drive as well as my own family through this horrific event.  This kind of stuff doesn’t happen in our town, this kind of stuff happens in big cities.  (Famous last words, right!?!)  Personally, I am hoping that this was a random act of a crack head rather than a student or ex-student.  I think it would just be better for the community and for our students if this was truly a indiscriminate act.

Today, when I drove my bus into the BHS bus load zone, I saw extra police, security and teachers everywhere and lots and lots of BHS Blue.  All the teachers have shown exceptional poise throughout this entire process.  Even the teacher that was attacked has been very appropriate considering the circumstances.  He released a statement thanking the community for their support.  He appeared on the news tonight and I was so proud because he is refusing to become a victim.  He said he would be back at work as soon as they let him.  Makes me proud to live in our district and be a home town girl.  I refuse to become a victim and so has he.  What a great example for my kids.

Here’s hoping that they catch the person who did this horrible thing soon!

Trust Your Mama Bear Instincts!

Usually I let my kids fight their own battles. I tend to listen to their problems and then advise them on what I think they should do about it. Every once in a while, I feel the need to get involved such as the time that my daughter was bullied by a teacher.

Such was the case recently with my teenage son. My son is 16, so at this point I really hope that the lessons that I have taught him stick. I have always tried to teach my children that if you work hard, you will not necessarily get what you want, but you will get what you deserve.

A couple of bits of information first: our school district’s high schools are grades 10-12. My son is a music fanatic. It’s what he wants to do with his life. He wants to learn as many instruments as he can and become a brass expert. He’s not into girls (or guys, for that matter), or anything else that a typical teenager is into. He loves music. If he could practice 24 hours a day, he would. Now, the way Drum Major works at our high school is that Sophomores are allowed to try out to be Junior Drum Major for the next year. They are then automatically Senior Drum Major. Knowing all of this, my son has made it clear all year that he would be trying out for Drum Major in the spring. He spent hours practicing and filling out the questionaire, became section leader and spent as much time with the current drum major as he could.

When the 4 finalists for Junior Drum Major were announced my son was not among them. We were both shocked at this decision by the band director. The director had eliminated all brass players claiming that the section was weak. My son informed me that he honestly would not pick any of the 4 that were left to be drum major because they were either too meek and mild or just not leaders because they were not committed to band. My son and I sat on this information for about a week. I told him that if he wanted to fight for the position then he should and I would support him. He chose not to, but I could tell that it was continuing to bother him. That is when I decided to write the director an email. I wrote the following:

“Dear [Director],

Over the past several days I have struggled with the decision to march into your office or write this letter. After speaking with another parent last night at the Music Boosters meeting, I decided to write, so here goes.

Last Thursday, you crushed my son’s spirit completely. His faith in doing the right thing, working hard for what he wants, trust in his teachers have all been decimated. I have always tried to instill in him that if he works hard he will get what he deserves. Your decision to exclude all brass from the running for drum major is baffling to me. It is one student; one that will not make or break an entire band. However, a bad leader can break a band. If you were going to make that decision, then why let them get their hopes up in the first place? Why let them hope all year long? Why let them train with [current drum major]?

You know that this has been a goal of [my son]’s from the very beginning of the year. He has spent countless hours practicing what [current drum major] has taught as well as hours on the questionnaire. He has also spent countless hours outside of regular time with [current drum major], learning from him. In comparison, one of your finalists spent about 10 minutes on the questionnaire and barely practices on their instrument, let alone anything else. Isn’t a drum major supposed to be a strong leader and good example for the other students? [My son] has already proven his leadership skills as section leader is Jazz. Given how week and unreliable [junior drum major] is (I know this from S & E experience), I would think you would want a solid Junior drum major. I would also think that you would want someone who is fully committed to band, is one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave, who wants to make the band better.

It would be one thing if [my son] was put up against peers that were actually real contenders, but to be discounted just because he is a brass player is just wrong. Out of the four finalists, [my son] has said that he would not vote for any of them as they do not have the qualities that a drum major should have. He has also said that the position is basically a popularity contest. As a teacher, you should be above the popularity issue and really should not be letting the students run your program, which is the whole point of you having a veto.

[My son] wants this, wants to continue music after high school, wants to teach. Music is his passion, proven by the fact that he will be showing up for Jazz Band next year, even though he will not be officially enrolled in the class due to Running Start restrictions. This would have been a stepping stone for him to start on that path. You have now put those future plans in doubt as he is questioning why bother even trying for anything. I hope that you take all of this into account in the future and be aware of the feelings of your students rather than crushing their hopes and dreams.

Thank you”

As you can see, I was one pissed off mama bear. Seeing my 16 year old son cry over something that he has worked so hard to achieve will do that to me. I let my son know what I had done, but because he was so down about the situation, he had no hope that it would help.

Two days later I received and email from the director stating that my son and another brass player were going to get the chance to try out for Drum Major. I was not actually expecting anything to change, was actually expecting to be ignored completely, so was pleasantly surprised. For me, this was a giant mama bear victory. For my son, it was the best day of his life. I even got an “I love you” out of it!

I guess the purpose of this post is, if all your mama instincts are telling you to get involved, DO IT!