A few weeks back, I wrote the first part of helping out back in Staten Island
I called it Part I which means, of course, there will be at least a sequel.
Well, it’s been a rough few weeks healthwise in our household so my apologies for the hold up on Part II.
It turns out that my synagogue’s education director in Rochester is childhood friends with David Sorkin, the executive director of the JCC in Staten Island. Our synagogue was collecting donations for Sandy victims in Staten Island. Their only problem: how were they going to deliver the goods?
So, in addition to helping out the fine volunteers at Guyon Rescue, with the help of my husband’s colleagues at General Motors, we borrowed the biggest Suburban you’d ever lay your eyes on and filled it with the gently used and new toys, books, art supplies and toiletries to be distributed through the Bernikow Jewish Community Center of Staten Island.
When I returned home to Rochester, Temple Beth El received the following letter from the JCC in thanks for our donation:
Dear Families of Temple Beth El,
Thank you very much for the toys, books, games and gifts that you collected for the children of our community who have suffered great losses from Hurricane Sandy. Also, special thanks to Stacy Gittleman and family for delivering supplies to the JCC.
As fate would have it, we received a call on Monday morning from a day care center that experienced damage from the storm and they were seeking replacement supplies. In addition, we sent some of the supplies to one of the shelters that are housing families. They were setting up a play room for the children, and your donations helped to create a warm and welcoming space in an otherwise bare and sterile environment. Some of these same children received the cards that were made by the children at your school.
Most of all, we must tell you that your acts of kindness will be remembered by all involved long after these families return to their homes and their lives get back to normal. …..
Thank you again to all my Rochester friends, neighbors and congregants who filled bins and my garage with donations that we brought down to Staten Island. I just wanted to share this letter with you to know how much it was appreciated.
Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project. / SHAWN DOWD//staff photographer
Perhaps it is no coincidence that a woman with a surname derived from an old French word meaning “gardener” would become a grass-roots champion of the sustainable and organic food movement in Brighton.
With humble determination, Sue Gardner Smith turned her activism into a career in managing farmers markets — first in the South Wedge neighborhood of the city and now in Brighton.
Gardner Smith was the oldest of seven children growing up on a 70-acre farm in Wayne County that had been in her family for a century. She remembers walking through its cherry orchards with her father and tending to the family garden with her mother and siblings.
Being the oldest in a large family, Gardner Smith developed the nurturing traits of a “mother hen” by cooking meals and caring for her younger siblings. In her early culinary experimentation, some dishes were tastier than others. Even into adulthood, she still gets teased by her siblings at her first attempts in the kitchen.
“When I was nine, I came up with a dish called chipped beef on toast. It was wretched. … I have to say that my cooking and tastes have improved vastly since then,” said Gardner Smith, who now prefers making dishes like ricotta cheese and onions stuffed into Swiss chard leaves she grows at her 10-foot by 10-foot plot in the Brighton community garden, a project also under her charge.
In her experiences of living in cities abroad and in the United States, nothing unites people more than food. She has shopped for fresh produce in the open-air markets and dined in the cafes in the plazas of Brussels. In London, there was the tavern and pub culture, “neutral” places where local neighbors could gather for a meal and a drink at the end of the day.
During her 15 years living in the San Francisco Bay area, she visited restaurants like Chez Panisse and markets such as the Berkeley Bowl, where the air buzzed with a sense of what she called “food energy.”
“It’s not just about eating. It’s how people gather at markets to socialize and catch up with neighbors as they shop. It’s the sounds of local musicians playing among the produce stands. I have long felt that Brighton should have this kind of gathering place, and I’m glad to watch its success,” she said.
Since 2008, the market held each Sunday in the Brighton High School parking lot from May through October is a testament of Brighton’s desire for high-quality and locally grown food. One thing Gardner Smith admits is that from a short-term perspective, eating organic and local is a bit costlier. Also, a recent Stanford University study recently concluded that organic food is no more nutritional than conventionally grown food.
However, she believes these factors will not curb the organic, locavore trend. This is because people are starting to put values on reducing their carbon footprint and the use of harmful pesticides, and developing a direct and trusting relationship between the grower and the producer at local markets.
“The study missed the point and had too narrow a focus. When you buy local and organic, you develop a sense of trust with the farmer, and you are also helping to support the local economy,” she said.
In addition to buying locally produced food, Brighton residents also expressed a desire to get their own hands dirty in avegetable garden of their own. In 2009, the creation of a community garden in Brighton seemed like the next step.
“It seemed like an obvious sister project to the market,” said Gardner Smith, who with a committee helped build a fence and a gate system around 100 10-foot by 10-foot plots on Westfall Road by the historic Groos house. Outside of a few stubborn groundhogs that managed to breach the fence, Brighton residents have enjoyed the bounty of their harvests.
Now that the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn are here, it is time for Gardner Smith and the other Brighton gardeners to put their plots to rest for the winter. But that doesn’t mean that plans for coming years will be put into hibernation.
Her ambitions for future years include using funds from a $250,000 state grant awarded to the town to preserve a farmhouse, a barn and some of the farmland on Westfall Road. The proposed project aims to create a permanent location for the farmers market and an expansion to the community garden with educational opportunities for schoolchildren to learn more about agriculture.
“Not only is my job rewarding, it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people in Brighton who are committed to this meaningful work that really has made a difference.”
Indeed, Sue Gardner Smith’s name suits her well.
For six years, I have walked the life of a middle schooler at my children’s curriculum nights.
Some years, my husband and I conquered and divided, splitting up the night walking the walk when we had a sixth and an eighth grader. Last night we walked through my son’s eighth grade day by visiting each class in periods boiled down into 10 minute snippets.
In years past, teachers with a twinkle in their eye would discuss the actual curriculum they covered in addition to how to get in touch with them and where to find the latest assignments online. In past years, teachers used their precious 10 minutes to explain why they are passionate about teaching their subject to our children, something to which they have dedicated their life’s work. They went on about how they would rev up our child to learn about the Industrial Revolution, or get them juiced up about geometry.
They talked about TEACHING. Plain and simple.
Last night, something was different. Last night, it seemed that the teachers in my beloved school district had been bitten by the dreaded TEACH TO THE TEST zombie.
With each class I visited with my husband, the evening was not about the curriculum, but making the grade. How much homework and classroom work counted toward the grade and most of all, how much those tests counted towards the grade. Suddenly, the school district that I have loved for its emphasis on academic excellence was more about how teachers were qualified to help our kids get the best grades possible.
Are academic excellence and excellent grades the same thing? Am I out of line for feeling this way? After all, I live in one of the toughest and highly rated school districts in the country, right? The going should be tough, it SHOULD be about performance and grades, right?
Now, I know. This is school. This is hard work that’s being asked of my child and I am glad my child is being challenged, but I want teachers to challenge my kids to learn, not to feel pressure and anxiety about taking tests.
Maybe our teachers are not to blame for this shift in emphasis.
What scared me about last night is I had a feeling that suddenly in my district, the teachers seem like they are under the testing gun more than in years past. The teachers seem now to want our children to succeed not for their own sake of LEARNING, but to show their own accountability for how well our children perform on tests and labs so they can keep their jobs. Teaching jobs are hard to come by these days, that I understand and appreciate.
Perhaps the class with the most soul sucking sound was my child’s math class. A cold fish of a woman with mousey brown hair prattled on about maintaining not a PASSING grade in this almost double-accelerated class, but a 85-90 percent grade to stay in the class. The word assessment came from her mouth almost two dozen times. Not once did she talk about how she was going to teach to me this most difficult subject to GET my kid and the kids of others EXCITED enough to learn and get this grade. I suddenly felt like a middle school student all over again in math, anxiously waiting for the bell to ring so could BOLT!
After math was technology, the final class of the evening. I had had it. All I wanted to do was blow this class off, not caring if I would get a detention for cutting. All I wanted to do was to go home and crawl under the covers, thanking the Lord I was no longer a middle school student.
So glad I stuck around.
Waiting for us outside his classroom was my son’s tech teacher.
“You coming in? Excellent!” He beamed.
I won’t say his name, but this man talked about his life. He talked about growing up in his dad’s auto mechanic shop and how he fiddled with car engines. In this class, they were going to MAKE and DESIGN stuff! Grow hydroponic plants! Use design and mechanic techniques that required precision and discipline to make a product! Yes, there would be homework and tests, but these benchmarks took a back seat to the teacher’s EXCITEMENT about what he was going to teach to our children.
So glad I didn’t cut your class, Mr. Tech teacher.
After we got home, I guess you can say I was in a crummy mood. I argued with my husband as we lay in bed about my seemingly bad-ass negative attitude about middle school. On a whole, weren’t the teachers lovely and didn’t they convey to us what our son would learn that year? My husband. I love him because he is the glass half full kind of guy. Yes, maybe.
I finally fell asleep. Only to be woken by my eighth grade son at 2 a.m. His throat was killing him and he had a cough that sounded like a sick seal. Felt his head. No fever.
“Honey, you sound sick, and if you feel this way this morning, we are going to the doctor.”
“NO MOM! I CANNOT MISS SCHOOL. EVER!! I’LL MISS TOO MUCH.”
“Okay, how about coming home after school and missing track practice. You need your rest.”
“NO MOM! I CANNOT MISS PRACTICE. EVER!! I WON’T QUALIFY FOR A MEET.”
Those last two sentences, fear-filled sentences about missing even a day of school, even an HOUR of school to go to the doctor, confirmed my feelings about curriculum night.
I gave him a cough drop and a kiss on his head and sent him to bed. But I can’t say that I slept well.
A note came home in my son’s backpack to state that today, this Friday, the school would be celebrating “International Heritage Day.” Third through fifth grade in my town is a time when students study the cultures of many countries. My child this year studied the cultures of Egypt, Japan, Australia. In successive years they will study about China and ancient civilizations from Greece to Rome to the Inca and Mayan Indians in social studies.
As a culmination and celebration of all this international study, third graders in my son’s school were asked to wear a hat that represents the culture of their immigrant ancestry.
Like most self-respecting Ashkenazi Jews, my family has roots in Russia and Poland. And, if you want to find some real exotic roots in my family, I believe my paternal grandmother was from Vienna, Austria.
But the Polish and Russians never looked upon my ancestors as their fellow countrymen. We were just: Jews. Yids. Pretty much second class citizens. That’s why Jews from Poland and Russia came over in droves to the United States – for economic if not religious freedom.
In my house, we don’t have any connection to Russian or Polish culture. How we identify, ethnically, is through Jewish culture.
So, what hat to use? The Moroccans have the Fez. The Mexicans, the Sombrero and the French, the beret, the Italians have the Fedora (acually, my older son has taken up wearing the fedora because he is so very dapper).
So, this brings me back to the question: What country do we identify?
I should have just put a Yankee Doodle style hat on my son’s head. We are Americans. But are we something else as well? Is Judaism a people? A religion? A Culture?
With what other country do we identify?
I could have chosen an Israeli Kibbutznik style hat, but that would be so … 1950′s.
So outdated. And, as much love as we have for our spiritual homeland, we are not Israeli.
So of course, to show off our heritage, we selected this one.
A kippah, in the Bukharan style, that we purchased this winter in Jerusalem as we made our way to the Western Wall.
This is the hat of our heritage.
These are the last days of school. I’m trying to make the most of them with my youngest by having our morning one-on-one time while waiting for his bus. We did just that today, just talking and waiting as the rain fell.
All I was trying to do was play a little math problem solving game with him, and lo and behold, it turned into the beginnings of THE talk.
I was not going to write about this funny conversation with my youngest child, my eight-year-old boy who is a bit worldly thanks to big brother and sister.
However, Blogher and Venus Embrace are putting bloggers up to the challenge of writing about tips of how to have a talk about sexuality with your kids for a $50 Visa Card giveaway, I would take them up on their opportunity.
So, there we were waiting for the bus when my son asks how old his grandparents, my parents, were when they got married, and how old they were when I was born.
Perfect. Time for a little math while waiting for the bus.
Me: Grandpa was born in 1940 and he got married in 1965.
Son: So… he was 25.
Me: Right. Okay, Grandma was born in 1943-
Son: So Grandma was 22.
Me: That’s right. And I was born in 1968.
Son: Didn’t grandma and grandpa want to have kids right away?
Me: Ummm….maybe, but it takes some time to have a baby.
Son: Why? I mean, why didn’t they, right after the wedding, drive up to a hospital and say “We want a baby, please?”
Me: It doesn’t work like that….
Now, I have to say, I had these conversations a little earlier with my oldest two, who watched my belly grow when I was pregnant with my middle and youngest children.
My youngest, however, never had the opportunity to be around a pregnant woman on a daily basis, so these questions had yet to come up.
The conversation continued:
Son: So just HOW does it work? Does a mommy one day look down at her belly and say, “C’mon, belly, give me all you’ve got!” and then the belly grows and then POP! A baby comes out?
Me: No, um. It takes longer than that. It takes nine months for a baby to be born. You see, a mom and a dad have to lay very close…..
Son: Oh, they have S-E-X??
Me: Yes. (Just what does he know? I wondered. But I didn’t prod.)
Me: You see, a woman has an egg inside of her and a man has a seed, and if the seed goes into the egg, in nine months a baby is born.
Son: AN EGG? Like a Chicken?
Me: No, not like a chicken.
Son: Was I Born this way?
Me: Everyone was born this way. And every thing.
Son: Were trees born this way?
Me: No, but most mammals are born this same way.
….. and so on.
After having three kids, my best advice about THE talk is:
- Be calm. Be matter-of-fact. Don’t brush off any questions.
- You don’t have to have THE talk all at once, but take it up gradually
- Only give them just the right amount of information they need and don’t expand. I didn’t get into the complications of birth control, sex before marriage, having babies between same-sex couples, in-vitro-fertilization. WHY? An eight year old just needs the basic facts.
- When they stop asking, it means they’ve had enough information for now.
One thing’s for sure: I will take out a few books for him on the topic at the library. One good source I found was a blog post by Story Pockets, a blog written by the Children’s Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Every day, my kids leave me things. Things that are not exactly presents, but that are always present in my presence that I need to take care of while they are in school and expanding their minds.
My dear children,
Must you leave your socks on your bedroom floor?
Can’t you throw away your rinsing cup after you brush your teeth and not leave it for me to throw away?
Kids, I really appreciate that you make your own lunch, but must you leave me your crumbs on the cutting board, the opened peanut butter and jelly jars lingering on the counter?
Must you leave me at my wit’s end and make me say things that I SWORE I would never say when I became a mother???!
At approximately 7:30 this morning, I had received no less than three text and voice mail messages both on my cell phone and land line from my daughter whilst I was in the shower and getting my youngest ready for school.
“Mom, I left my lunch home and I have no money and I have track practice and I’m going to be hungry so can you pleeeeaaase bring my lunch to school?”
One more present left behind for me, the mom.
Okay, I bring the lunch to my high schooler, because that’s what moms are for.
But then, for all the world to see in the high school’s main display case.. what’s this?
My daughter, my sloppy, beautiful brilliant, talented daughter, is featured artist of the week in her high school: I shot the following on my iTouch through the display glass so forgive me for the amateurish glare:
Today, the hallways of high school, tomorrow… SoHo?
Thank you, daughter, for being my present. I can almost excuse the dirty socks, and the pencil shavings, on your bedroom floor.
Every now and again, I get a story idea in my inbox that just cannot wait a week until it is published in my column. In our age of overtesting our children to the point of desparation where they even cheat on college entrance examinations, here is a story of Melissa Gertner.
Melissa is a mom who was inspired by her son’s curiosity to solve problems by tinkering with old machine parts in his basement to start an after school club called FIRST LEGO® League that lights the spark of science and technology in tween and teen-aged kids in Victor, NY.
She is competing for a scholarship to win $10,000 for the Victor school district to continue and grow the LEGO program for years to come in Victor.
Here is her story. Vote for her at this link
A Mom and a STEM Advocate
I never liked science. Or math. Technology scares me. So, you must wonder, how could I have helped connect others to science, technology, engineering and math? I am not a teacher. Or an engineer. I can barely balance my checkbook. Still you wonder…
The answer is simple. I am a mom and an advocate. My son is endlessly curious and creative. He is always inventing things in the basement, taking machines apart to see how they work, reading about the way our world works, drawing his plans, bringing them to life, making a mess, starting all over again. Every day. All day. And he inspires me. To provide opportunities for him and others like him to find their very special and immensely valuable place our world.
So, two and a half years ago, with the guidance of the Victor Intermediate School, another devoted mom and I started the Victor Intermediate School FIRST LEGO League (VIS FLL) Club, a 3 year after-school pilot program designed to capture students’ interest in science, technology and engineering. The program offers hands-on real–world learning experiences that reach beyond the traditional classroom.
In our first year, we served 26 4th graders in a non-competitive format. In 2010, we took six teams of 43 4th and 5th graders to qualifiers. Three of those teams advanced to the Regional Championship. This year we will serve 80 students, including six teams of 5th and 6th graders attending the qualifiers in November and six teams of 4th and 5th graders participating in a non-competitive season starting in January 2012.
How did I find my way to this program you ask. Well, three years ago, I had the privilege of coaching my son’s Jr. FIRST LEGO® League team. Little did I know, I had embarked upon the journey of a lifetime. Somewhere along the way, perhaps when I saw the pride in the faces of my son and his teammates at their show and share event or the incredible ideas they generated or the solutions these 8 year olds developed, I was hooked and committed to providing a continuum of science and engineering opportunities to as many students as I could possibly embrace.
Since that time, I have coached his FLL team for two more consecutive years, been a co-coordinator for the club in the off-season and am currently the coordinator of the VIS FLL Club. I have also actively helped other teams get started in our region by sharing information, resources and encouragement.
I continue to be inspired by the imagination, ideas, teamwork and passion these kids generate. Not only do our students participate in community events and competitions, they also mentor local students and others throughout our region, and spread the word about how exciting science and engineering can be. As much as I am helping to connect all these kids with science, technology and engineering experiences, they are the true connectors, connecting me with the best of myself and the best of themselves with our world.
My son came home at the beginning of November with his first serious take home project in his academic career. To thoroughly research and display a natural landform.
Cry me a River.
If you have elementary school-aged children, you have been presented with the following scenario:
Your child comes home with a project assignment. They must research a topic and then display their findings in a creative way. Suggestions included making a diorama, a puppet show, a video dramatization. The project instructions come with a rubric so the child knows just what the teacher will be looking for in the research, delivery of facts and visual presentation before giving the grade.
In true tradition of thinking in terms of our achievement and perfection driven culture, as demonstrated in the film Race To Nowhere, I initially got it into my head that this was not my third grader’s project, but it was mine. It would have to be mine if I was to make sure my son got the highest grade possible. I couldn’t just let my eight year old go it on his own, could I? Because other parents in my highly competitive school district wouldn’t just hand off their kids project, would they? If I let him do this on his own, would I seem neglectful? Would I come off as apathetic mom in a tiger mom school district?
Right away, I approached the project - Rivers – like the 40something I am and not like the eight-year-0ld child that my child is. As far as the research, I would visit three different library branches to take out every children’s nonfiction book on rivers in publication.
The research went well and with much enthusiasm, my son, with some direction, came up with vocabulary flashcards with river terminology like “mouth” and “source” and “delta”. He also created about six flashcards with facts on the world’s longest rivers and New York State rivers. To top it off, he wrote the flashcards showing off his latest 3rd Grade skill: using cursive letters!
Next came the all-important presentation of Rivers. Should we create a video? I had the FlipCam ready. We could go off to the Genesee River with the University of Rochester in the background …..we could script a newscast and dress him in outdoorsman clothing….what would he say? … Or, we can go in the über diorama direction. It would have to include mixed media like clay and pebbles for the river embankments and shiny cellophane for the river. And, some parts of it should be relief sculpture and for artistry’s sake, there must be perspective and depth to show a river’s origins far away and its mouth up close…
All these ideas were shot down during the design conceptualization meeting with my son.
”I really just want to color, mom.”
Really? Just Color? Would there be an initial sketch? How would a sense of scale and perspective be achieved?
“MOM! I DON’T WANT TO MAKE A SCULPTURE OR A DRAFT. I’M JUST GOING TO COLOR! IT’S MY PROJECT, OKAY?”
The more suggestions I made, the madder he became until he started to cry.
Remember, this was supposed to be an enjoyable project to be completed at home.
Three days later, he came home with his final grade: Outstanding. Well, good for us.
I mean, good for HIM!
Speak trippingly on the tongue – the complete works of Shakespeare in 90 minutes at Pittsford Mendon HS
As a columnist who has to write ahead, I am always thinking two weeks into the future. But, in the whirlgig of time, I was not in time on writing an advance for a great high school play taking place this weekend. But this sounds too auspicious of an event, and I had too good a time looking up Shakespeare quotes not to share. Thanks to all my friends on Facebook who fed me with witty Shakespearean quotes and sources for this post:
The Sutherland High School players present a fall comedy, The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged. This parody incorporates all the plays written by William Shakespeare into one show and will be on the SHS stage October 27, 28, and 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door for $10 each.
“This is different from anything I’ve ever done before,” said Colin Perinello, a senior who will major in musical theatre next fall at a college to be determined.
“In one sentence, I have to use a high falsetto voice when I say Juliet’s line, then have to drop to a deeper voice in a Scottish accent when I am the narrator. Sometimes, I mix up my voices and roles, so what comes out is a twisted Juliet with a Scottish accent. Let’s just say it is a very humourous outcome,” he said.
In our world of 140 character tweets, it’s refreshing to know that there are still high school kids out there who will put on puffy shirts, tights and kilts and learn the poetry of Shakespeare. But, in this age of short attention-span theatre, this play indeed makes “use of time” to “let not advantage slip” as snippets of all 37 Shakespearean plays are squeezed into this upcoming 90 minute performance.
This weekend, I’m planning on seeing the movie Anonymous, a movie with a premise that Shakespeare never wrote a word. Shakespeare: was he or wasn’t he? But in the end, does it matter?