Our local paper, Brattleboro Reformer, runs a column written by Jill Stahl Tyler, called "Education Matters".  Jill highlights happenings in our local schools, written through the eyes of a parent with kids in our schools.  The column runs every other weekend in the Parenting Section.  Take in some of Brattleboro's school's events and experience life in our small town!

Traditions


“Mom, we do this every year!”

“Yes,” I say.  “It’s tradition!”

It’s funny.  Sometimes my children claim “tradition” as their right.  Shopping for deals right after Thanksgiving is just not to be messed with, even when I suggest that perhaps we could just look for things on line instead.  Not baking each of their specific Christmas cookie favorites?  Not negotiable.  Decorating an annual ginger bread train, complete with many types of candy? 

Normal (although last year’s near 70 degree temperatures on Christmas Eve caused all of us to let that one slide for a year).   Cinnamon roll making on a snow day?  Cherished--and expected. An annual sledding party, complete with the snowmobiles doing the work of climbing the hill and inviting all the friends they want?  Practically mandated, set in stone--and longed for, all last winter.

Read more: Traditions!

Concert Smiles


“Mom!  I have a concert coming up!”

It’s hard to not get excited when your daughter is glowing and enthused.  I dutifully marked it into the calendar, thinking that it could be a bit tricky for the timing.  December has a lot going on, always, and adding in a violin concert had not been on my agenda.  Still, she was thrilled... and I would be there, no matter what.

A couple of days later, she came home with another paper.  “Look, Mom, we have a concert.”  

I was confused.  “Yes, we already have that on the calendar.

Read more: Concert Smiles

Just Another Normal School Board Meeting


Last night, I spent yet another evening at a school board meeting.

When I joined the board about six years ago, I expected I’d hear regularly about the happenings in our town’s three elementary schools, the goings-on at our infant and preschool programs through Early Head Start, Head Start and our private partnerships with other preschools in the area.  

Our meeting last night, on November 16th, was no exception.  (If you would like to watch the meeting, all of our meetings are filmed by BCTV, and on demand at their website at http://www.brattleborotv.org/ )   We reviewed student numbers, children moving into or out of our area, attendance levels and tardies.  We heard about what I call “the good stuff”: spelling bee championships, special family gatherings and after school programs.

Then we go to the opposite part, the data that brings down the feeling in the room, every single meeting.  

Read more: Just Another Normal Meeting

Teaching English at the High School Level

The high school English teacher asked the visiting parents a basic, should-be-simple question at the BUHS Open House.  “What letter grade, or what percentage, means that someone has achieved proficiency?”

Some answers came quickly.  “60%,” called out one parent.

“75%?” asked another.

“How about 65%?” another dad tried.  

The teacher nodded. “Yes,” he said, “that’s the question.”

He then went on to explain how the high school was switching from the A-B-C-D-E system that most of us were used to....

Read more: Teaching English at the High School Level

Money Talks

“I got paid today!” my daughter announced as she bounced into the house after school.

Completely confused, I asked for some clarification.  “Who paid you? For what?  Are we talking about real money?”

“No,” she laughed, “it’s not real money!  Why would a teacher give me real money?”

Read more: Money Talks

Sports & Work


“How about sports management?” I asked.

My son and I were going over his options for the fall semester.  He wanted to make sure that he had a balance between his core classes (English, math, science) and his electives.  He had thought about how much work some of those would require, and still wanted to have time to play sports.

Life is all about balance, of course.  There is probably no more important lesson that we all learn (and re-learn, often, throughout our lives).  We fully supported our son’s concern, and wanted him to find a way to fit everything in.  “You love sports, so that sounds fun, right?”

Read more: Sports & Work

College Confusion

“What do you like to do?  What would like to be?  What do you want to study? Where do you want to go to school?  What about weather, would you like to be somewhere warmer, or do you want to still be able to ski in the winters?  What about size?  Do you think 4,000 students is big enough?  Should it be 46,000 students?  And sports... did you want to play sports still?  Which ones?  What level, club sport, division three, division one, big ten?”

Honestly, these are the questions we have been throwing at our senior-age son for a long time already... far too long in my mind. 

Read more: College Confusion

Cruising Into That Final Year

Last week on Monday, the two older brothers were tormenting their sister all day long.  “You have to go to school tomorrow!” they threw at her whenever she happened past them.  “And we don’t.”

“You have to go the next day!” she retorted repeatedly.  “You are going back, too.  It’s not just me!”  

“Yea,” they agreed.  “But we get one more day than you do.”

Read more: Cruising Into the Final Year

Hoo-rah!

“Just make sure we are back in time for football,” my youngest son admonished me.  “We can’t miss that.”

“We should have a day to rest, too, after coming back from the drive.  So be sure you put that into the schedule,” his older brother added.

Read more: Hoo-rah!

A World of Experience


He is struggling to understand what is being said around him.  He gets some of the conversation, but some is flying over his head.  I jump in and stop the conversation for a minute.  “Hold on,” I say in Spanish, “let’s check where he’s at.”

I look at my oldest son, his 6'2" frame dwarfed in the majesty of the Andes mountain range all around us. We are in Ecuador, outside of Quito, literally on the equatorial line.  The interpretive guide offered to give us his prepared speech in English or in Spanish. 

Read more: A World of Experience

Driver’s Education For Whom?

“Just wait until there is a break of four seconds between the cars before you pull out,” my 15-year-old son explains.  “That’s how you know that it is safe to turn out.”

I sigh.  This is the instruction number 25 for today alone.   I hate to squash his enthusiasm.  I love that he is learning.  I can’t argue with the logic.  I’m glad he is internalizing all this.

But is it too much to ask that I drive without help from the peanut gallery?  

Read more: Drivers' Education for Whom?

What's Cookin'?

It’s about 4:30 in afternoon when I realize that our daughter has spent the vast majority of her day hiding out upstairs, watching television.  Curious, I catalog her day’s activities.... and then I mentally go back over the few weeks that she’s been out of school.  Besides one week of lacrosse camp, she’s been glued to a screen, the computer or the television.  Actually, lacrosse camp left afternoons free–and she spent any of those moments huddled up in front of the TV, too.  

Come to think of it, her brother has done the same thing.

Read more: What's Cookin'?

Finding the Balance

“I know there’s a balance... I see it when I swing past.”  John Mellencamp, “Between a Laugh and a Tear”

“School’s out! We’re done for the summer!”

All three of my kids–and every single one of their friends–has announced this to me in the last week and a half.  “We’re out on Monday, you know, Jill,” one of them said.  “The elementary kids have to go longer.  We don’t!”

Monday morning of last week was normal routine.  Tuesday morning saw

Read more: Finding a Balance

Heifer Stroll Band Debut


“I see her!  I see her!” my four-year-old niece cried enthusiastically.  “Right there!  That’s her!”

We were standing in front of the library, watching the 15th annual Strolling of the Heifers’ parade.  Parades of any sort are big deals to preschoolers.  Parades with cows in them are particularly exciting.  But parades with her 11 year-old cousin marching with a band?  Clearly, those are the best sort.

Read more: Heifer Stroll Band Debut

The Good & the Bad?


When I said I wanted to be on the school board, I imagined I’d hear about the music program, the reading materials, the field trips and the lunch room.  I figured I would hear about their test scores, the schools’ constant reach for improvement and the winter sports programs.  I imagined heart-felt discussions about our social curriculums, and how our teachers work to instill community values.

I love that part of the meeting. 

Read more: The Good and the Bad?

Rites of Passage

The first Saturday night in May, under an almost-drizzly sky, our streets seemed suddenly taken over by young men in tuxedos and young ladies in long, formal dresses.  There was no mistaking it: prom night was upon us.

We spied a group of six girls with one guy, sashaying their way through the Coop parking lot and up hill into downtown.  Through the window at a restaurant on Main Street, we spotted another table full of them, menus in hands, preparing to order.  Coming home “the back way” from Guilford, our car interrupted an impromptu photo shoot on the top of a hill. 

Read more: Rites of Passage

Learning Stripes

It’s April vacation week for our local schools, and the learning in our house seems to have gone to the dogs.

It all started around 2 AM two mornings ago.  One of our dogs, the Rottie, sat in the hallway, barking about every three minutes.  In her mind, I believe she thought she was being polite, since she was not barking incessantly. 

Read more: Learning Stripes

College Thinking

“Today we visit Keene State College!” our fifth-grade daughter noted on Wednesday this past week.  She was out of bed and dressed in record time, even asking for my approval on her choice of outfits to make sure she was truly ready for this special day.

The fifth graders in Brattleboro’s elementary schools have started a new tradition in this college visit: dreaming

Read more: College Thinking

Making Stew (or Act 46)

This past Wednesday night, in my capacity as Brattleboro Town School Board Chair, I walked the town representatives through a quick explanation of the much discussed Act 46.  Several people told me that they had not understood the law at all until this explanation, and so, I am repeating it again here in this week’s “Education Matters,” with a bit more explanation that we flushed out during our discussion after my start.

Here’s my analogy of Act 46... to making stew.

When Act 46 passed in the VT legislature, it was as if the Vermont lawmakers said to the school boards: “Some of you are having steak, and some of you are having to go without any meat.  So, make stew. 

Read more: Making Stew

A literacy Breakfast

"Oh, Mom, I’m supposed to remind you of the literacy breakfast.  It’s tomorrow morning.  Well, OK, so I kind of forgot the paper that my teacher said she sent home in my mailbox.  I was supposed to tell you last week.  But I know it wasn’t in my mailbox, ‘cause I check it all the time, every day, really.  There was no paper, I am just positive...

“But anyway, the point is that tomorrow is the literacy breakfast.  You can come, right?”

What mother would say no to such earnest enthusiasm? 

Read more: A Literacy Breakfast

Feeling the Bern

The past few months, the entire family sometimes stands mesmerized by the political coverage on TV.   I’ve even allowed us to eat at the counter a couple of times, letting the smooth tones of Lester Holt from NBC News beat out the normal family dialouge.

The kids, at 17, 15 and 10, have strong opinions on the presidential candidates.  The fifth grader reports nearly daily: “Everyone in my class likes Bernie.”  The freshman snorts at the lowball antics, mud-slinging and verbal sparring between the candidates. The junior listens and shakes his head, unable to believe the promises.

I came up with an idea: I would take them to a political event.  

Read more: Feeling the Bern

A Hoop Story

This past week, in our own high school gym, I witnessed some truly astonishing play.

Even better, I walked out incredibly proud of the sportsmanship I also saw.

Of all the sports out there, there is one game I truly enjoy watching, and that’s the game of basketball.  

Read more: A Hoop Story

A View From Inside the Act 46 Study Group

 

“You know, you all look like reasonable people,” the gentleman said.  “You don’t look like monsters.”

We were at yet another Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Act 46 Study Group meeting, determinedly sorting through the details of what a potential “accelerated merger” might mean.  His comments came after about two and a half hours of heavy discussion, filled with thoughtful commentary, punctuated with thinly disguised worry, and smoothed by the occasional joke.

Read more: A View From Inside the Act 46 Study Group

The Weight Room

When I checked to make sure my second son was awake and moving, he greeted me with a complaint.  “I don’t think I should go to school today.”

My standard answer came fast: “Get the thermometer.  You have to have a fever.”  

He argued rather convincingly.  “But you know my friends are sick, Mom.  I think I’m getting the same thing.”  

Read more: The Weight Room

A Christmas (Sheep) Miracle

Like most everything in life, it all started with one small idea: a living nativity at our church. I agreed to find the animals, and called on friends and neighbors, who happily loaned their sheep, calf, goats, and dogs to us. We added our chickens and rabbits, and behold: we had a nativity scene.

On the day of the blessed event, I watched carefully, making sure no animal could break through a fence or slip through some loving child’s arms.  I have these terrible nightmares of cows running down Western Avenue with cars screeching to a halt, and I feel full responsibility for their safety.

But... it was all lovely–a perfect, sunny morning

Read more: A Christmas (Sheep) Miracle

The Songs We Sing

"When are we going to decorate the tree, Mom?  Why is Dad saying that the branches have to come down?  Let’s do it now!”  

My ten-year-old daughter is easily the most enthusiastic about holiday decorating this year.  She bounces around the Christmas decoration boxes that her teenage brothers have been forced into hauling up the stairs, pulling things out excitedly.  “Oh, I remember this ornament!  I made it in preschool!

“Look, Mom!”  She carefully extracts another one. 

Read more: The Songs We Sing

Find Your Passion

“Find your passion,” the guidance counselor urged the high schoolers and their parents one night in early fall a couple of years ago.  “Follow that.  Let that guide you.”

Inwardly, I groaned.  Passion?  These guys are freshman. They can’t decide what to eat for breakfast. What “passion” can they possibly have for doing anything for the rest of their lives at this point?  

Read more: Find Your Passion

A Banquet of Accolades

Imagine twenty kids, aged roughly nine to twelve, all bounding about the gym.  Add in at least one harried parent for each.  Throw in few grandparents. Complete the scene with ten younger siblings scurrying about, clamoring for attention.  

This is the banquet for the Academy cross country team. 

Read more: A Banquet of Accolades

The Big Yellow School Bus

The Big Yellow School Bus: it’s the icon of education in the USA. It’s the object of dreams for my three-year-old niece, who so longs to jump on. It’s the bane of travel to my fifteen-year-old son.  It’s one of the dogs’ highlights, who hope to see the kids. It’s the embodiment of time pressure to my ten-year-old daughter, as the bus insists she bow to the clock’s unrelenting demands.

For twelve years (how could it possibly be twelve years?), our days have been structured around the bus.

Read more: The Big Yellow School Bus

"Who Cares?"

I really hope that my house is not the only place where the phrase “Who Cares?” comes up.  

Because here, it is used mostly to avoid doing something.  “Who cares, Mom?” they all three cry when I point out that they are “living in a hog pen.”  “It’s my room, why should you care?”

“Who cares, Mom?” they chime in, uniquely united in this crusade to avoid the dishwasher unloading and kitchen cleanup duties

Read more: Who Cares

Friday Night Lights

“I’m going to lift weights with the football team, Mom,” my sophomore son announced at the end of the school year.  He said it in that way that teenagers have, this simple telling their parents what they are doing, no longer asking for permission, just merely informing me, keeping me in the loop on what he’s already decided he will do.  

It’s an effective tactic, really, and he’s honed it well.  It limits my choices of response to one closer to what he wants to hear.  I actually sputtered for a moment, processing what he said.  “But...” I started, stopped and started again.  “But....  Wait, you are not playing football.  We’ve talked about this, the concussions, the NFL players that have such brain injuries.  Remember the articles we read?”

“Right, Mom.  I am just working out with the team, no commitment,” he said smoothly. 

Read more: Friday Night Lights

Carpe Diem


“But why do the kids have to go back to school, Aunt Jill?” asks my three year-old niece as she snuggles into my lap deeper.  “Why?”

It’s Thursday of the last week of summer school vacation. She is enjoying her first ever week of staying with her cousins and aunt and uncle--which was all her own idea.  After a full-filled day at Six Flags on Sunday, she just announced to her mother that she was “staying at Aunt Jill’s.”  

Read more: Carpe Diem

Those Flyover States

Back in February of 2014, we adults started putting together our dream vacation trip:  Yellowstone National Park, with its close neighbor, Grand Teton National Park thrown in for good measure.  We’d see the geothermal rarities, we’d search for grizzly bears and moose, we’d ride horseback.

But the bottom line for the ease of traveling by plane was still shocking: $1700 for the rental car. $3600 for flights for the five people. “Well, I will visit family in Illinois anyway, and I was going to drive,” I said brightly to my husband.  “What’s a few more hours in the car?”  

A quick check with Google Maps showed a more accurate picture: 80 hours.

Read more: Those Flyover States

A Sports Mom Reflects

I just tallied up how many weekends we’ve had free from a lacrosse commitment, since the beginning of April through July 20th: two–Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.  (And there were opportunities during the Fourth of July, but I refused to even consider them.)

I often feel like perhaps I am an inadequate sports mom.  I don’t know (or wish to know) all the rules.  I don’t really care if we win (although it’s nice); I just want the kids to have fun.  I don’t really want to watch all the games (but I do enjoy the social aspect).

And worst of all–and here’s the admission

Read more: A Sports Mom Reflects

A New Driver in the Family

The first thing I did was take a photo and text it to my husband.  “We have a new driver in the family!” I announced happily and proudly.  Then I sent it to my extended family, and I shared the news with various friends–most of whom have their own children also taking a driver’s test within the next few weeks.  

“Finally,” I thought.  “Finally.  He has his license.”

My mind raced to the possibilities. 

Read more: A New Driver in the Family

Friendships Count

I did something very important–and very difficult–today.

I stepped away from all of my kid pick-up obligations.  I did not finish all the (smelly, sweaty) laundry. I left clients to wait for an answer, bank deposits to be made and a desk to be restored to order.

Feeling guilty–but determined, I picked up a friend,

Read more: Friendships Count

The Power of Yes, and the Eventual Realities of Life


“Yes,” I answered my daughter.  “Yes, we can still read Harry Potter together tonight.  It’s only 9.”

“Yes,” I said to my eldest.  “Yes, I can take you to go kayaking this afternoon.  What time are your friends meeting and where?”

“Yes,” I agreed with my middle child.  “Yes, you can have all your friends over tonight, on a Wednesday night.”

Read more: The Power of Yes

Enthusiasm Bubbling

Is there really anything better than seeing someone just bubbling over with enthusiasm?

Last week, I added to my nightly request for my kids (and whoever else might be with us–adults included) to tell me their “two good things of the day”.  Perhaps it was the quiet rainfall that made me a bit more reflective, maybe it was the annual wind-down parents with school-age children pass through in late May and early June.  Whatever the inspiration, I ended up delighted that I’d thought to ask them:
What was your favorite thing this year in school?

Read more: Enthusiasm Bubbling

Life in the Fast Lane

Last night was so nice,” I told my sister, “we all actually had time together for a change.”

We were catching up on nieces’ and nephews’ lives, sharing the schedules we both juggle daily.  Overall, it was that one Tuesday night that stuck out.

I dwelled on how important I think that time is for us, and basking in the afterglow of achieving it –and I tried to figure out where it might happen again.  I really analyzed that very specific night and came to a shocking realization.

Read more: Life in the Fast Lane

Tulip Trot Fun

"We should do that,” my friend nudges me.  “We should support Green Street School, you know.”  

Yes, I think to myself: I think it’s a great idea to support Green Street School, or Academy School, or Oak Grove School.  But run a 5K?  Uphill?

Nonetheless, the idea takes hold, and I pester the friend to join me in the “race”, too. She doesn’t answer the emails I send as reminders, which is quite unusual for her.  But once I’m onto an idea, I’m rather a determined sort.  Eventually, she answers yes, and we sign ourselves up for the big day.

Read more: Tulip Trot Fun

April Vacation Education of Mom

It’s Friday of the week of April vacation week, late Friday afternoon even.  

Every year, I try to make something “special” happen in April during this week.  Although once we did travel to the land of Mickey Mouse, and one other time, we went to our nation’s capitol, I don’t need that level of extravagance annually.  Two years ago, we spent one night on a battleship in Fall River, Massachusetts, an event the kids still talk about fondly (and I still shudder to recall how poorly I slept in the four-high bunk beds which sagged so low I couldn’t hold my book up properly to read when my bunkmate crawled in above me).  One year we let the kids do a nearly week-long massive slumber party, at our house, which still places high on their “fun memories” list.

This year?  I looked at their practice schedules at the beginning of the week.

Read more: April Vacation Education of Mom

Jack of All Trades?  


“I don’t know how to get the right answer!  I can’t do this!”

“This is just dumb! Why do I have to do this anyway?”

“Why don’t they write their questions in plain English?”

This was the scene last night in our house. 

Read more: Jack of All Trades

Budget Building 2015


For the informational meeting for town representatives on Wednesday night, I started off by explaining the budget process the Brattleboro Town School Board goes through each year.  

This year, we began by asking administrators for “level funded” budget.  The very idea of “level funded” means that some cuts almost surely have to be made—because a lot of items in the budget go up, annually: things like teacher’s negotiated salary as they gain more experience, the cost of supplies, health insurance. (Health insurance rates alone, for this year’s budget, are up by 4.5%--which is actually better than a few years ago, in 2013, when rates were up by 10%.)

The administrators exceeded our request: they came back with a budget that is actually LOWER than the previous year’s budget–by .36%.

Read more: Budget Building 2015

The Lure of the Mountain

They struggle from bed, bleary-eyed and slow-moving.  They grunt instead of forming real words.  They trip over each other as they stumble into the shower half-awake, and re-emerge some ten minutes later, wet and somewhat brighter eyed.

But they are moving.  Of course, they were still up-and-at-‘em around 2 in the morning, in spite of our admonishments to “go to sleep–NOW” and our threats of “you will not go tomorrow if you can’t settle down now”.  It is a small miracle that they are responsive at all with only five hours of sleep.

One by one, they morph from lumps to their normal, athletic, teenage boy selves. 

Read more: The Lure of the Mountain

Family Time with Uno


“I used to have children, kids who participated in life and family,” I told my two oldest this past week.  “Now, I have teenagers.”

They just scoffed and laughed as they hurried off to their own private worlds, where entirely too much time is sucked up in video games with their friends on-line.  

It was not so long ago when my boys could find things to do that did not involve screens. 

Read more: Family Time With Uno

It Takes a Village

Whenever anything went wrong, my father said, “The best laid plans of mice and men...”

It was the Sunday of the ice storm–Brattleboro’s freezing rain.  This was the day which the forecasters had assured us would be full of rain, plain ol’ annoying rain. Based on the predicted wetness, the Brattleboro School Endowment canceled the “Mt. Snow Express Bus”; we thought people wouldn’t want to go.

But of course, my second son’s die-hard snowboarder and

Read more: It Takes a Village

Technology Rocks!

“Did you know you can email me now, Mom?” asked my 9-year-old fourth grader excitedly.  She headed straight to Google Docs.  “See?” she exclaimed, infinitely proud.  

The eighth grader (always eager to top her) chimed in.  “Yeah, we’ve had that for, like, years.  We have Chrome Books.”

His brother rubbed it into the middle child. “Well, you can’t take yours home.  But the freshman do.”

Technology in the schools is serious business.

Read more: Technology Rocks!

Writing Papers In a Digital Age

It’s an icy Sunday afternoon, right before the dreaded return-to-school on Monday, after a long--and thoroughly–enjoyed holiday break.

Now reality is setting in.  The eighth-grader must write a couple of historically-based paragraphs on slavery for social studies. The sophomore must complete his biology capstone project.  I am determined to organize several cupboards.  

With all of us in the same room, it’s both oddly amusing and highly informative to observe. 

Read more: Writing Papers in a Digital Age

The Gingerbread Train, a Holiday Tradition

Back when my two sons, now 14 and 16, were only around 2 and 4, I attended a Pampered Chef party.  The company featured a new gingerbread mold, to go along with their traditional house mold: a train.

Now, like most boys around that age, trains absolutely fascinated our children.  They based their choice for preschool on the play trains.  We read “Thomas the Tank Engine” stories over and over and over again.  My father’s final Christmas gift was a Christmas train.  Twice, we took Amtrak from Albany to Chicago, complete with sleeping accommodations.

“Get the train, Jill,” my friends urged.

Read more: Gingerbread Trains: A Holiday Tradition

Snow Day Slow Down

“No one is going anywhere today.  Period.”

This is how my husband started his day on Tuesday this week, clearly deciding for everyone in the household what our plans would be for the foreseeable future.  “I can’t even stand up in the driveway on the flat part,” he explained at 6 AM. “No way am I attempting the hill. We’re all staying home.”

We let the kids sleep in, I made the required calls to their respective schools to report their absences. We turned on the pellet stove, and enjoyed a cup of tea

Read more: Snow Day Slow Down

With Gratitude We Go Forth

It's only November, and I’m freezing.  There are no leaves left, the ground lays bare, the winter looms.
While I know many who adore this season and cheer the advent of the coming winter snows, fall remains dead last in my seasonal preferences.  

For me, there is but one highlight in November:  Thanksgiving.  But it’s not the food (although I do like a good piece of pumpkin pie).  It’s the forced act of gratitude.

Read more: With Gratitude We Go Forth

All School Sing


It’s 8:40 AM, Tuesday morning at Academy School.

All 380 students have entered the gym.  Their teachers and paras have either joined them on the floor or taken a chair right behind them.  Grandparents, moms and dads, and young siblings scurry between the chairs and the floor, figuring out which suits them best for the next thirty minutes or so.  I’ve come in almost late, hurrying to a seat just in time.  

Suddenly, the controlled chaos calms, and the students are quiet as their principal raises his arm.  He cries out heartily:  “Good morning, Academy School!”, and they respond with equal gusto.

Read more: All School Sing

Homework Realities

A piece of yellow yarn was 230 inches long.  After 90 inches had been cut from it, the piece of yellow yarn was twice as long as a piece of blue yarn.  How much longer than the blue yarn was the yellow yarn at first?

Welcome to fourth grade math.  That question

Read more: Homework Realities

To Play or Not To Play


The second week of school, our fourth-grader brought home the paper she’s wanted to see since first grade: the band sign-up sheet.  

“Which one should I play, Mom?  What do you think? I always wanted to play the flute, like you are learning.  But the saxophone is good, like my brother plays, and you play.  And what about the clarinet, like my other brother plays?  Which one, Mom?”

Read more: To Play Or Not To Play

Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?


At what age should kids get themselves up in the morning?  Make their own food?  Clean their own clothes?

I’m rather a firm believer in the idea that a large part of any parents’ role is to prepare their offspring for the real world. 

Read more: Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

A Rabbit Story

It wasn’t really supposed to happen.

I suppose a lot of stories which feature rabbits as main characters begin this way.  As our neighbor points out, “You were raised on a farm, right?  You do know how these things work?”

I’ll start at Mother’s Day of this year.  Oh, there are more humorous escapades with this tale that happened before May; there are poignant moments, and there is even drama and pain if I recounted all of our rabbit adventures. 

Read more: A Rabbit Story

And They’re Off...


“I don’t know why some kids say that they are excited about going back to school,” my middle child bluntly–and provocatively–stated the afternoon before he must do the same dreaded task.  “Who wants to go back to school at the end of summer? Really, who wants to go back to this?”

His brother just sighed from the driver’s seat.  He was en route to yet another soccer practice–the highlight and main focus of his days for the last two weeks. 

Read more: And They Are Off

 

Life Lessons

“When are we going to see Pop today?” the three kids asked me.  This had become our routine this summer: schedule out the requisite drop-offs and pick-ups–and figure out what time we’d see Pop.

Pop is the name our kids had chosen for their paternal grandfather. 

Read more: Life Lessons

Pirates at Green Street School

“But what if I don’t want to go?” our daughter asks plaintively, looking up with eyes simultaneously filled with hope and resignation.  “Do I have to go?”

In April, the note explained she’d been recommended for a special summer camp, focusing on literacy and math skills.  It would give her an extra boost when she returned in the fall.  Her teacher stressed this would increase her confidence.  As a school board member,

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Flute Camp

Before the summer even started, I realized this is the year of “drive kids around”.

So when my flute teacher–after only two lessons–asked me if I was interested in flute camp, I hesitated.  I have too much to juggle with the children, work...and life.

But, isn’t it good to learn something new, and to have a bit of fun?  And, isn’t that what camp is?

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Mean Mom Ruins First Day of Summer

“I cannot believe you are making me get up early and do something EDUCATIONAL on the very first day of summer!” my second son nearly screams at me. “I want to go swimming and get up late and hang out with my friends! How could you be so mean?”

“What are we going to DO there?” my daughter asks suspiciously. “What is there to see? How long will I be in the car?”

The oldest is quicker to give in, and he simply sighs in exasperation. “Mom, you know the two of them will just argue all day, just like they always do. Are you sure that you want to do this?”

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Don’t Count Your Chickens...

We make quite the family photo on Monday morning, standing outside the elementary school with one huge lacrosse bag, two lacrosse sticks, three backpacks–and a huge wooden box.  One son scurries off, in search of dolly; the other two secure a lamp, a feeder and a waterer.

We are ready to set up the “chicken condo”.  The chicks should hatch on Tuesday morning.

But when we arrive in the third-grade classroom, we are greeted

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All Lacrosse, All The Time

Three springs ago, our sons came home talking about signing up for some new sport we’d never heard of: lacrosse.  They knew a few things about the game.  It involved sticks– with nets.  Helmets.  Pads–lots of pads.  It “moves fast,” they told us, and “it’s fun!”

We parents knew nothing at all.  

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What Comes Before Us

Last night around dark, I was talking to one of my favorite chickens, Cochi.  I quietly apologized for disturbing her, removing eggs she so loves to set upon at this time of year.  

Suddenly, I flashed back to myself as a child of about seven or so.  

The night was similarly quiet and cooling down, the chickens white instead of Cochi’s black and shiny plummage.  I remember

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The Easter Egg Hunt

It all started in 2002.  We parents decided we could create a fun experience for our little boys, then only three and one.  What could be better than hunting for eggs the Saturday morning before Easter?

It started out pretty simply.  We bought plastic eggs, and we filled them with jelly beans.  “Only one candy in each,” I remember saying, many times, to my sons, “and don’t eat them!  They are for the eggs!” We invited their preschool classmates, and the neighborhood kids, too.

Over the years, we’ve adjusted.

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 Chaperoning the Field Trip


It’s 9.00 AM on Sunday morning, after three extremely full, fast-paced days with little down time.  The 120+ BUHS choral and band students have been told: the bus leaves at 9.15.  

I am in my hotel room, trying to desperately finish the last lines of a translation I need to do. I’ve found it exceedingly difficult–OK, essentially impossible–to finish this while riding on a bus that bounces and having no room to spread out papers.  Aware of the time, and my first responsibilities as a chaperone, I sigh, and collect the still-not-done papers into a pile.

Leaving, I figure I should make sure that there are no Brattleboro kids still in their rooms,

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Story Time

There is nothing quite like crawling in bed with a good book.

Unless you amp up the coziness factor and add a child curled up next to you... or maybe one on each side, their warm little bodies pressing up close.

If you are lucky, your faithful puppy dog jumps up,

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Community Conversations


When I first moved to Brattleboro, I drove up and down Western Avenue nearly daily–and never once realized Academy School was tucked behind the lovely white church.  I lived on Oak Grove–and never really thought about Green Street School, either.  I paid taxes for educating the towns’ children, but that was pretty much the extent of my thoughts about education in Brattleboro.  

Of course, as life normally goes, when I had children of my own, this changed. I started to wonder what went on in those schools dotted around town.  What was emphasized?  Are they “good” schools?  How do the students do?

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Winter’s Night of Music


It’s cold.  It’s dark.  In spite of my most fervent attempts at grinning through the season, it’s March, in the winter that seems without end. My ideal evening increasingly involves curling up in bed to watch some television or getting lost in a good book.  

But, tonight is the middle school’s open house and winter concert.  We will have to suck up to  the frigid evening’s promise of near-record lows yet again; we must prove that we are made of hardy stock, worthy of this state’s claims of being “hardy Vermonters”.  After all, “good parents” do not shy away from getting in a cold car; they pull it together and attend a concert.   

The two older boys have walked up the hill, done their chores, grabbed some food... and settled into their Xbox game. 

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Finding Fun

“Mom, can we sled down the driveway today?” asks our eight-year-old daughter.  

Like many a Vermont home, our house site is blessed... and cursed.  Our first winter here, I drove a cute little Honda Civic, bought for its thrifty gas mileage, sold for its low-belly aptitude for getting stuck in our driveway.  I believe my husband would tell you I tested our vows of “to death til we part” when I forgot to leave the keys in the abandoned vehicle sitting precariously sideways on The Hill. There’s nothing like hiking ten minutes, through a wicked combination of ice and snow, just to fetch car keys from your forgetful wife.  Since then, we’ve only purchased four-wheel drive vehicles.  While it might not be good for the planet, it is definitely good for the marriage.

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Get to PLAY!

I am as guilty as the next parent in commanding my children to “Get to work!”  After seeing them just sitting around the house with different electronics in their hands for hours on end, my mind starts to catalog the various jobs they could be doing.  It might be my Midwestern upbringing, or maybe my dairy farm background,or maybe even my German relatives with their ever-present “strong work ethic”.  When I sit down for a few minutes, I can actually hear my deceased father’s voice--imploring, demanding, insisting:  “Why are you just sitting there?”

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The Budget

“You know, Jill, if we as a community can’t take care of our most vulnerable–the oldest and the youngest–what are we?  Shouldn’t our town’s budget reflect those values?”

This was the response I received last week when I cautiously asked one of Brattleboro’s town meeting representatives what he thought about our school board budget. He and I had been present for all of the many hours of discussions last year on that late March Saturday that seemed to never end.  We had both witnessed–and participated in–the careful, heartfelt deliberations of our town’s elected representatives.  He and I knew that the town school budget came very close to not being passed–and that we had spent an unprecedented nearly five hours discussing it.

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Two Good Things

“So... it’s time.”

I announce this just about every night during our supper.  It doesn’t matter if we have just our three kids here–or if it is a whole group of varying ages.  I even say this when I’m not in my own house, but I’m dining with my children–and other adults who are not familiar with this little family tradition. l pose the same question all the time.  

“Tell me two good things

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Book Fair Time–More To It Than Meets The Eye!

“I want to buy this book for my niece,” the young man told me proudly as he handed over a pink Barbie chapter book.  “And I want these mushroom erasers for myself .”

My eight-year-old daughter started to scan the purchases–she loves to run the scanner.  

“Here is my money,” he said... as he handed over one dollar bill.  

Read more: Book Fair: More Than Meets The Eye

Cookies & Spice & Everything Nice

It’s a family tradition at our house, the week of Thanksgiving: the annual holiday cookie baking. We start on Tuesday night, when my youngest sister usually arrives.  We end sometime on Saturday.  Of course, we take time off for feasting–and shopping and ice skating, too. But, pretty much, we dedicate ourselves to baking cookies.

Our three kids-almost 15, 13, and 8–are here. Their many friends are in and out all week. 

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Lending a Helping Hand...


Jack felt his family had finally made it:  they had an apartment, and were all–finally--living together again.  There were six kids, and it was a two bedroom place in town.  Jack told his principal, “We are all so happy!  Mom & Dad have one bedroom, the three girls have the other one, and we three boys go to sleep on the couches in the living room.  It’s great!”  

Before this, Jack, his siblings and his parents were living in their car. 

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Conference Time!


I’m never sure what to expect when I walk into parent/teacher conferences.  

I know what I hope for, and I’m quite sure that we parents all want to hear the same

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Strike Up the Band–and Sales!


It was only the second day of school when the materials came home: the first of three scheduled band fund raisers.  

My first thought to all fund raising is inevitably the same: ugh.  But I try to keep an open mind, and I wanted to know what it was for.  Our son explained that it was for the band field trip to Washington, DC, in March of next year.

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Brattleboro Exploration

"Today we rode the town bus!" exclaimed my third grader.  "We walked a-l-l over town!  We saw everything! We even went into the library!"

For about three weeks before this exciting trip, and now for about three weeks after the great outing, our entire family has been hearing about this incredible, fantastic opportunity that our daughter has had.... to explore downtown Brattleboro.

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Concussion World?


While I admit to not being the absolutely most attentive soccer mom, I do usually at least notice when my child is whacked about during the game.

But this past week, our oldest, the high school freshman, came out of the game with blood above his eye. 

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Open House Frenzy


Thursday, September 19th was a full night in the education world here in the town of Brattleboro.

For our family, I started our after-school frenzy with pick up of our third-grader

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Saturday Night FOOTBALL!


The game is really only an excuse, I think.

Rolling en masse from the parking lot to the other end of the bleachers–and back again, many times–is a group of middle school students clearly delighted to be together.  The girls have their arms around each other, swaying as they walk.  The boys are pushing playfully,

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Cupcake Wars?


It was at the end of the parent meeting when the principal brought up the idea.  

He explained that the administration and teachers had been looking at birthday and holiday celebrations in school.  He wanted our feedback, as moms and dads, about what makes sense.  

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A Shift in Expectations?


It has been decades now since I was in middle school.  But I still can feel my cheeks going red with embarrassment, my eyes darting around to see who was listening, my sense of self wilting.

There was one kid who always started it.  I never knew why

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Creativity Rules

“Create Fairy & Gnome Houses,” the article said.

This sounded good.  My eight-year-old daughter and I would go.  After too much complaining from the twelve-year-old and his thirteen-year-old friend, I decreed their participation mandatory, too.

I come up with these ideas.  Then I worry about how well they’ll go over. But I find that mothers (and fathers) must never show doubt

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“I’m bored.”

"I'm bored."

My mother used to shoot daggers from her eyes if we three sisters dared to say those words.  My father would rant about how my mother never once got to say that, and that we were selfish brats to even consider saying such a thing.

I now completely understand why.  

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Off to Camp–One & All!


Our house has seen a dramatic change.

We remembered the Brattleboro Park & Rec Department camps... and we happily enrolled our eight-year-old.

These have long been Brattleboro area parents’ solution to the school-vacation-but-we-must-still-work dilemma.  The camps are offered every week.  They are reasonably priced, and chuck-full of great opportunities for kids who have completed kindergarten, up through entering sixth grade.

Within a few short days, our daughter is no longer the sullen, grumpy individual we’d come to dread encountering each morning... and she’s back to the cheerful little being we enjoy.   We expected this transformation.

As I dropped her off the first day, I suddenly remembered that the Brattleboro Park & Rec Department will also accept volunteers.  

Ah ha! I was convinced that I had found an answer for the oldest son–and his friends

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“But it’s summer va-caaaa-tion!”

Somewhere around the crack of 11 AM, they pile out of their air-conditioned bedroom.  It might be just my two sons (12 and 14).  Or there may be a group of them.  Either way, they wander out, blurry-eyed and grunting when I talk to them.  They are barely one step above sleep walking, and relish their slow entry into the day.

After quick stops in the bathroom (where teeth brushing is clearly not a priority), they like to crawl back into their beds. 

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Veggie Delight?

This morning, I was somewhat shocked today when my eight-year-old daughter excitedly reached for a box of little cherry tomatoes, saying, “Can we buy these?”

After a slight pause, I (of course) told her yes.  What parent turns down their child’s request for vegetables?  I did have to throw out the normal mom-comment, “You remember that if we buy them, you must eat them, right?  You’ve never had them.”

“Oh, yes, Mom, I have had them.  And I do like them!” she answered.  “We’ve had them for snack.”

Ah, of course: the healthy snack program

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The Fundamental Question

“So,” he asked us, “what do you want your kids to have learned when they leave school?”

The group of about eight area school board members looked up at Vermont School Board Association trainer Harry Frank.  He repeated the question.

“What do you want your kids to have learned when they leave your schools?”

Honestly, I thought this was some sort of trick question since it was school board training.  

Read more: The Fundamental Question

Wrapping Up & Winding Down

What happens every May and early June?

Every single person I know is stretched impossibly thin at this time of year–and if you are a parent, it’s particularly acute.

We are–obviously-- in the home stretch of the school year.  This brings great extras: field trips, award nights, book fairs, special visitors, concerts, celebrations, moving up and graduation ceremonies.  “Final” everythings:  assessments, tests, homework, rehearsals, sport practices.

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 Green Team

 

When is the last time you ate lunch at one of the elementary schools?

This past week, I was invited to eat lunch with the kindergartners at Oak Grove School.  

Dining in a school cafeteria is not quite the same as a five star restaurant–although everyone commented on how good the food tasted.  

The main difference is really the decibel level.  

But no matter the loudness while laughing through their meal time, only calmness and respect marked their clean up.  

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Art Night Slow Down

“Hurry, Mom, we have to get to Art Night!”

My daughter and I had an hour or two to fill between after-school activities and when Art Night began at her school.

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Field Trip Time!

It’s May.  In Brattleboro’s schools–at least from my experience–that’s really another way of saying, “It’s field trip time!”

As a parent, my heart soars when kids get excited about something.  It makes even the loudest and most uncomfortable of bus rides all worthwhile.  Here is my list of top ten field trips

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 Winter Sports!


Friday mornings in our house are pretty chaotic.  

“Mom, where are my gloves?”

“Did you put my board in the car?”

“What do I take for snack?”

Yep.  It’s officially a winter sports morning!

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Round and Round the Rink We Go

Education happens sometimes in some strange places.

Personally, I have spent this fall and winter (so far) somewhat amazed by what goes on at our local skating rink, right here “at the park”.

My three kids–ages 14, 12 and 7–all started ice skating just last year.  I expected to watch them learn how to get around on the ice, maybe even go backwards at some point, maybe do a trick or two.

Little did I know that the skating rink is not really about skating.

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Life After Winter Sports?


“Mom,” said my then-7th-grader, “Why don’t I get to have winter sports?  When I am supposed to go skiing?”

Oh boy, I thought: we have created this situation, haven’t we?

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Welcome Baby!

Recently I heard a great presentation on the “Welcome Baby” program that happens in Windham County.  

I remembered this program from when my sons were born at BMH.  A nice, caring lady came to visit.  I clearly recall the warm “fuzzy” feeling this half hour visit brought me.  “How nice,” I thought, “that this community cares about our new little guy.”

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Behavior Questions?

Sometimes, I think educators received some sort of special manual that I missed out on as a parent.

This handy book must include tips and tricks for getting kids to do what we adults want them to do. How else do they have a room full of kids being nice to each other–when my three kids can’t make it across Brattleboro without negativity?

Read more: Behavior Questions?