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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Paths We Choose

This Blog entry will represent a bit of a departure from most postings. With a request for your patience and understanding I'll indulge it a bit of a personal reflection with little reference to instruction at Heatly.

We held an open house/barbecue yesterday for my son, who leaves this Wednesday for a 27 month assignment with the Peace Corps in Mongolia. He will teach English to learners in grades 5-12 and serve as a resource to native instructors who also teach English as a foreign language. We won't see him for at least a year. We're not even sure that he will be assigned to an area with Internet connectivity that would allow emails and Skype. It was a last opportunity for family and friends to gather and wish him well. The experience was mixed with the joy of interacting with so many caring people and the sadness of his impending departure.

I come from a family of nine, with six siblings - three brothers and three sisters. The large size of the family and the small size of income resulting from two parents with self imposed limitations (she was always at home with young children and unable to work outside of the home - he was always struggling to find meaningful work as a 10th grade drop-out) left all of us in a precarious position financially, emotionally, and socially. Nonetheless, I persevered and pursued my dreams with the same vigor and confidence I generate to implore learners at Heatly to sustain their hopes.

On this day, of all days, with family and friends gathered for the special send-off, it was a coincidence that the newspaper with the most circulation in the capital region of New York would feature stories on two adults who emerged from the impoverished family that lived years ago in the condemned 1880's tenement that squatted along the Mohawk River in Schenectady. Above the fold on the front page of the Sunday edition of the paper was a story of three different schools that have cultivated a working relationship with a vendor to provide expanded learning opportunities through web based on-line instruction. I was quoted with respect to our purpose and goals at Heatly. We want to enrich instructional possibilities for our learners and offer them a menu of courses designed to make them more competitive as they seek their future. Also, the staff of the newspaper ran a story on one of the top runners in America as she prepares for an upcoming road race that represents one of the most significant races for women in the country. The article references her relationship with her legendary former high school coaches in Saratoga. The coaches happen to have garnered nineteen New York State high school cross country championships to go along with their seven national running titles. These coaches happen to be my sister and her husband. My sister has twice been honored as the top track coach in the U.S.

That's a long way removed from the days when we both trudged through the hallways of elementary school clutching free lunch tickets and wearing the hand-me-down clothes of classmates. Mere mentions in the local newspaper are hardly noteworthy, but the paths we chose that enabled us to make a difference in the lives of others have been rewarding.

I believe the good fortune I have experienced is as much due to the powerful potential of public schools as it is to my endurance in warding off the effects of poverty. I suspect that the reason that I and this particular sister of mine invested a career in public school education was to acknowledge our debt to the teachers who helped facilitate our advancement and "pay it forward" to others by pledging to help transform the futures of the boys and girls we worked with as educators.

Certainly, not every teacher we engaged on our journey through public school exercised compassion and empathy, but there were enough who did at critical junctures to guide us toward prospects that would otherwise remain elusive. I believe that public schools can make a difference in the lives of children. I believe that there are many caring and considerate educators who construct learning environments that cultivate and promote opportunity and growth for all learners. I believe in the possibilities of "rags to riches," anyone can "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" and make a better future. Perhaps it is nothing more than an idealistic and naive unfounded myth that teases countless people confined by different factors. But, maybe again, the belief in public schools as a lighthouse of hope for those struggling with vision limited by the fog of stereotypes, perceptions, and prejudice just might be true.

I also believe my son will spread encouragement, support, and hope among the learners he will teach English in the classrooms of Mongolia. He will make a difference in their lives and in turn will realize a significant difference in his own life. His views and awareness will be expanded, and his understanding and focus will be enriched. I am proud of his conviction, his commitment, and his courage.

I will surely miss him very much.

1 comment:

  1. Godspeed to your son as he embarks on such an important journey -- ministering to others.