March 25, 2011
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Travelling to North Dakota to visit family offers a host of different views as we wind our way across three states. Each one seems to have a personality of its own and can usually be found on the license plate depicting what the state chose for their identity.
There is enough going on in my regular email folder to keep me busy just deleting unwanted services, but the sheer volume of clutter might cause a person to start getting an e-mail condition I refer to as PAED (Personality Actuated Email Disorder).
Justice means to deal with somebody or something fairly. This past week has seen an onslaught of differing views on the not guilty verdict of Floridian George Zimmerman who was acquitted of murder and/or manslaughter. I followed the case with interest because of the tragedy, but also to monitor just how effectively our media informs us.
I’ve definitely got a conspiratorial streak that runs through my sensibilities and every once in a while I veer off into wondering about things. I could blame the heat, but I try hard to stay out of it because I know that too much heat can cause people to think crazy thoughts.
I love Fourth of July celebrations in our country and have enjoyed some very happy times with fellow Americans who understand the importance and uniqueness of Independence Day.
We just celebrated Father’s Day, and I was glad to hear so many people offer congratulations for being a dad.
Summer provides ample opportunity to squeeze in some time for reading. Each summer, I try to catch up on my preferential reading and do less purposeful reading.
On Memorial Day we paid our respects to the more than 400 soldiers buried in our local cemetery who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy.
Beginning in June, coaches are coordinating efforts to make sure student-athletes can increase their performance potential.
When seniors graduate and are “out on their own,” they discover that many of these idealized quotes no longer make practical sense. Paths after high school can present some very challenging hazards, a few roadblocks and even the realization that the path isn’t leading to the place they thought it would.
So much has been written about the role and importance of mothers that it might be easy for some of us to simply buy card and a box of chocolates this week and call it good. But every year I’m reminded of my mother, whose nurturing and protection were priceless.
Students begin each school year excited by the opportunities and expectant that each of their endeavors will be successful. Unfortunately, as the academic year marches on, many students find themselves straining to keep up with their many commitments.
The unexpected spring storm that dumped some serious snow on our state last week shut down all kinds of activities on the Front Range and Western Slope. Encountering the unanticipated can send students into a flurry of thinking that the grass must be greener (sooner) somewhere else.
What is taught in our local schools is the capacity of individual students to make the American Dream a valuable belief.
Colorado tests students in selected grades each year to determine their knowledge in certain subject areas (science, math, reading, writing). Each student’s score is recorded, reported and then measured against a state standard to determine if our schools are meeting the child’s learning needs.
Great performances are rewarded with an appearance in the playoffs. Our high school basketball teams made a spectacular debut in Class 3A this season by posting excellent records before bowing out in the regional finals.
In a world that is ever changing culturally, constantly shifting politically and almost completely unpredictable socially, the way in which we adapt is critical for success.
While generally agreed that leadership requires time-honored traits such as courage, integrity and honesty, it increasingly is apparent while watching the news that many leaders are taught to avoid responsibility for their beliefs (and most assuredly their decisions). But, if you read about most successful leaders throughout history, an unceasing commitment to a particular vision was apparent.
Tradition. Many artists, writers and philosophers began the 20th century thinking that traditional methods of viewing the world were outdated and in need of a contemporary fix. One such movement that flourished in the early 1900s and continued through the 1950s was cubism. Cubism was an attempt to elicit an understanding of the fourth dimension (time) by the artistic representation of multiple views of an object.
Ideas. They present themselves with palpable zeal when we are excited by them and can stand as roadblocks when we find them lacking. Worse than disagreeing with an idea is to disregard it, especially when it involves the potential for solving an issue or reminding us of what’s important. Ideas are made up of words and take on a personality, which is why we become so attracted to giving our concepts such earnest-sounding descriptions.
It’s a formidable task to navigate through the jungle of people, institutions, companies and groups that are vying to help influence our identity. Sports apparel companies seem to spend the most trying to help make sure we are wearing the right athletic clothes. Each one of us finds a certain amount of identity in our style of clothes or the shoes we wear. Businesses rely on identity to influence our decision-making in most aspects of our lives. Just ask most men what make or model of vehicle they drive or women where they buy their clothes or children what kind of cell phone they use.
Imagine living through a half-century that experienced WWI, The Roaring Twenties, The 1929 Stock Market Crash, The Great Depression and WWII. The Period from 1900 – 1945 is described as the Modern Era of American literature. Poets such as Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot, authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald began to question their belief in American traditions and the American dream. Couple this literary movement with the “intellectual” trends of Marx and Engels “Communist Manifesto,” Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and the popular Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species” based on his theories of our “common descent” (evolution). What took place between 1890 and 1945 was a seismic shift in how we perceive the world around us, our actions and how we approach literature.
As we read Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Virginia Convention” in our American Literature class this past week, I was struck by the lessons he can still teach us today. Henry was radically anti-slavery for his day and used slave imagery to make his case in a speech whose final cry, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” still reverberates throughout history. He fervently implored his countrymen to support a declaration of grievances against the King of England. Henry’s major theme in his fiery speech was for his fellow Virginians to break loose the chains of fear and hatred. His rhetoric was impeccable as he persuaded those who were listening to forbear fear of the British military and hatred of the English King that would cloud their judgment because their “holy cause” was liberty in opposition to tyranny. The lessons are implicit in our understanding of our Republic. We must not give in to fear and hatred affecting our judgment.
The protection of our high school students was taken to an early Halloween extreme this past week to make a very important point. Students who might potentially lose their lives due to the choices they make (or fall prey to the decisions of others) were on display in our hallways last Friday. These students dressed up to look as if they were literally walking corpses with signs around their necks indicating their cause of death. The intent was to show the student body the impact of the loss of students at a “memorial” assembly where each student was eulogized. When students, or anyone in our community, forfeit their life because of their own poor decision or by the poor decisions of others, it is a tragedy. The lessons we can learn from such an ordeal have been lived out in our community more times than I care to remember in the past 15 years.
History will be made this year in the presidential election when Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is elected. We may have the first Black President who will serve a second term, or our country will elect its first Mormon President. In my 20 years of living in this great United States, I have never experienced the type of visceral passions stirred up by opponents and supporters of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The candidates have done a remarkable job of clearly defining their differing worldviews and dissimilar attitudes toward government. I teach American Literature each day to over 90 students who constantly hear me describing America as a country that would be unique from every other when it declared in 1776 that hereditary status, class distinctions and religious affiliation would be replaced by the merits and actions of individuals with liberty.
Lance Armstrong made the news this week as he stepped away from his LiveStrong Foundation so that fundraising would not be hampered. Armstrong has claimed that charges of using performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping are malicious characterizations of his reputation as a professional bicyclist. As the world of professional sports is rocked by another allegation of an athlete who put their reputation above telling the truth, we are learning some important lessons from this tale of caution in our American Literature classes. Lance Armstrong, like so many athletes before him, became so wrapped up in preserving a reputation that the truth was set aside. This is not a new phenomenon in our country, or in our world. History is replete with examples of people who sacrificed their character and reputation for the short-term accolades of winning.
Our community had a chance to taste a little bit of the future last week during the Homecoming festivities. While there were several events that we can bite down on as indicators along the way for our future success, one stood out. Homecoming culminates on the high school football game but in past years some have tried to take the focus off of athletics and make the celebration more “inclusive” or “politically correct.” Fortunately, the 1967 Gridiron Gang came back to town this year to help all of us realize the importance of sports tradition and the value of sticking together. Their story is one to remember and a valuable lesson in dedication and desire.
The annual Homecoming festivities and celebrations are a special time in the lives of almost every local community member. Homecoming has been very different this year at the high school and in the community. The support of organized local groups has had a palpable effect on our attitude toward Homecoming. Local businesses and community members made money and space available for classes to build floats for the parade. Student Council, motivated by local generosity, got prepared and organized for helping make certain that the parade will be successful this year. Very often the generosity of people is all that is needed to facilitate a different approach to how things are done, a great lesson for all people who rely on their community to ensure success with a bit of “gentle persuasion.”
A firestorm of controversy over teacher dedication and participation on committees generated a blaze of letters to the Daily Press last week. While all parties have since concluded their respective “peace talks,” an indelible perception will linger on far into the future. The perception isn’t as important as the lessons each of us might be reminded of when something like this happens. The first, and most enduring lesson is that something like this will happen again. Human nature being what it is, we should be reminded that in the long history of mankind, people say things that get others “fired up.” In our Senior English class we have been reading Gilgamesh and the enduring reality of hubris reaching out and swiping away the commonest of sense. Gilgamesh eventually comes to the realization, after much searching, much pain, and many disappointments, that life is to be lived from a viewpoint best learned on the shoulders of those who have come before us.
Many of us find ourselves in volunteer situations because of the activities in which our children choose to be involved. A number of fathers and other interested men find time each week during the fall to help coach and referee in the Doak Walker Football League. I marvel at the patience and calm demeanor that most of the volunteer coaches display. They consistently yell encouragement from the sidelines and show young children how to appreciate competition and love the game of football. The officials take time to make sure that safety is observed and that all the players get to know how to formation correctly and get set before a play is activated from the line of scrimmage. It’s amazing to watch all the little bodies flying around out on the field and how each team works in concert to make plays work on offense and not allow plays to be successful when on defense. All this made possible by parents and adults who pour their time into the lives of young boys.
Many high schools took time this week to remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Eleven years have passed and most people remember where they were the day that radical terrorism made its destructive appearance in our country. We’ve mostly moved on from the painful days that followed the news of a planned attack on the World Trade Center, but the lessons we learned from what we now refer to as “9-11” can be found in what we recite together each day in our classrooms. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands.”
The Moffat County High School Football team has a tradition of singing the school fight song after each victory. I’m hoping we get to sing it often this season and was thinking that our fight song is pretty good and contains some important lessons worth remembering: Oh when the mighty Bulldogs fall in line, we’re going to win again another time… We are mighty when we stick together and work toward a common purpose. We’ve already won if we stay together and continue to strive for excellence.
Technology is ever-present in our culture and in our schools. The High School has taken advantage of some extra rooms and re-purposed these areas of the school and turn them into computer labs. The added computer centers mean our students have more access to technology than ever before. Combine the computer labs with iPads and Smartphones and we are definitely “wired.” Understanding by Design (UbD) is a curriculum planning movement in our School District that incorporates the best practices of teaching and takes into consideration how student learning has changed and adapted to technology.
I spent some time a couple of weeks ago in Grand Junction with my family taking care of some of the “essential” aspects of the looming first days of school. Most of you are aware of the joys of roaming around the city looking for shoes, clothes and other necessities that will ensure your children a successful school year. As I helped my children try on clothes, I began thinking about the various fabrics that make up the styles and options we have for clothing in our country. But what caught my attention were the lessons that clothes can teach us each and every day. The fabric that makes up our clothes is typically divided into 4 categories: new, old, worn, or discarded.
Commitment, hard work necessary for progression
It’s easy to critique the latest version of the Olympics along the lines of our favorite sports but we can’t escape the fact that there were some incredible stories of talent, courage and dedication. But, the lessons that I took from the 2012 London Olympics involved something more than just sports. The casual observer might not know that many of the venues used in the London Games will be dismantled after the Olympics are officially over. This is the first country I can recall that accepted the reality that building huge permanent structures to facilitate a two-week event might not be the most productive idea. We can look at pictures of past Olympic sites, particularly Athens, and see what happens once the excitement of the events is over and the care and maintenance of the sites are left in disorder.
Summer is slipping away and fall will be upon us soon. The energy and expectation of a new school year is already palpable in our community. Next week begins the official start to training camps that will kick off the 2012-13 school year. It's refreshing to know a few things are going to be different this upcoming year. We now have an official group of parents and supporters who are passionate about “boosting” expectations in the classroom as well as in the areas of sports and extracurricular activities.
Being guests in another state can be very educational. While we see only a snapshot of what is going on with the oil boom in North Dakota, my extended family offers another perspective. There is a huge amount of attention being paid to North Dakota as an oil-producing giant. While oil jobs pay well and generate tax revenue ($856 million state budget surplus to date), there are a few concerns. There are approximately 200 oil wells currently producing in the western portion of North Dakota with more than 600 more in the planning stages.
Having spent my college years in North Dakota at Dickinson State and the University of North Dakota, there are some obvious lessons to be extracted from the current oil boom, but what I learned most about on our annual vacation to Dickinson this past week had nothing to do with oil. As I do each year, I visit my college coach and we reminisce about the “glory days” and then turn our attention to our present reality. Coach Biesiot will become one of the few college coaches in football history to amass more than 250 victories in a 34-year coaching career. He has already been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Lessons are sometimes learned from being in the right place at the right time. Some call it timing, but I choose to believe that if you grow where you're planted, you can blossom anywhere. This past week I spent some time in Austin, Texas, with the Unstoppable Craig Conrad. We were the guests of a school-for-profit company with six campuses across the Lone Star State. Craig has been gracious enough to help me make use of my master's degree in curriculum and instruction to act as a consultant when he is rolling out some of the educational portions of his amazing Unstoppable You program. What we did was of a business nature, but what I learned was that there are some very unique philosophical differences between public schools and schools-for-profit.
Lessons aren’t always learned in the classroom, as I found out this past week. Last week, I learned some important lessons about our local hospital. My son broke his wrist July 4 and we took him immediately to the The Memorial Hospital's Emergency Room. We were greeted by a friendly face and a few simple questions. Within minutes we were taken to a spacious waiting room to await treatment. Dr. Jon Ossen performed a preliminary diagnosis and ordered X-rays. The X-ray technician was fabulous and began immediately to educate both my son and I about the X-rays to be taken and how each would inform the doctor.
It’s sometimes difficult to explain to parents the level of dedication required to play high school football. Back when I was in high school, you showed up in the fall, looked around and hoped you were going to have a decent team. The coach ran us into the ground to get us in shape and then we began the season. Times have changed. If you show up for our Fall Training Camp and we haven’t seen you all summer, you will definitely be lost. June, July and August are spent preparing players for fall training camp by offering weightlifting and speed training. When mandatory practice begins in August, there is an expectation that players have been paying attention to the opportunities afforded them by the coaching staff.
The education of our children was in the news again this week and I had to duck to avoid some of the shots across the bow. The Craig Daily Press editorial board made some excellent points about administrators and teachers, but left out some of the actual problems we face each day. If we are going to be honest and not “skirt the issues,” read on. If a student isn’t getting the grade they think they deserve, the teacher is the problem. But when the student gets out into the workforce and isn’t doing the job they were hired to do, it’s very seldom the employer’s fault.
Fathers play a critical and important role in the success of our culture for a variety of reasons that are well documented. However, it seems that as with most positions in life based on ourselves becoming less of the focus, the role of a father is becoming less prestigious than it once might have been in a culture that can be very self-centered. So, to all the fathers out there who regard the responsibility of being a beacon for legitimate and valuable parenting, I salute you and offer the following models of dads that make a difference. As I was growing up, I never once considered the thought that my father might someday decide to chuck all the responsibility of being a family dad so he could selfishly explore the things he might have “missed” while being married and blame it on a mid-life crisis.
I got caught up in "The Hunger Games" pandemonium that served to promote the movie (which I haven’t seen) and spent the past two weeks finishing up "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay." The series was a great read and I would recommend it to everyone who isn’t too squeamish about death, torture, and mayhem. Without question the hero is an intriguing character called into action by virtue of a desperate attempt to survive her time as a contestant in the games that are designed to remind all of the “Districts” who is in control. I suppose because I am an English teacher, my fault is that whatever I read, I take meaning from and find it difficult to see any book as merely entertainment.
May is all about names and recognition. Moffat County High School’s annual Awards Night and National Honor Society Installation Ceremony is filled with a variety of guests who laud students for their toil, dedication and learning by presenting certificates and scholarships. Graduation is another celebration of names and accomplishments where students are applauded for their four-year commitment and are rewarded at various levels for many different accomplishments. Some for making it through but others for going above and beyond.
Last week I described a difficult decision I had to make as a junior in college. Would I turn professional or return for my senior year of college playing on a team that had an opportunity to compete for a national collegiate championship (we were ranked No. 1 in the NAIA national poll for several weeks the previous year)? I gave five life lessons in last week's column for graduating seniors, so we'll pick this week up from there. No. 6: When you have two choices to make, you better have a solid moral foundation to help you decide. It would be easy to rationalize a jump to a professional team so that I could begin to make money doing something I had dreamed about since I was a kid.
Congratulations, seniors. Graduation is almost here and the “rest” of your “lessons” are about to begin! I graduated from high school in 1982 — back when President Reagan was going to “fix” public education — and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life except that I dreamed of becoming a professional football player. I didn’t have a great GPA and my parents were hoping that I could find a job (the economy wasn’t healthy then, either). I was hired as an aircraft mechanic apprentice at a small regional airport and began to experience a series of life lessons:
Many students — and some teachers — are counting down the days until the end of the school year. A countdown suggests that what’s coming next will be something that is more enjoyable or happier as we escape from institutional learning and rediscover a taste of liberty. At our house, the kids don’t get off so easily as we resist the urge for unfettered summer freedom. Summer reading is mandatory and activities for the sake of keeping our sons busy is regarded as a failure on our part to effectively parent.
Local teachers made the news last week when a healthy representation appeared before the Moffat County School Board to seek common ground regarding the rising cost of medical insurance premiums. Plenty of discussion is tossed around when costs associated with running a school district are being negotiated. Employees are compelled to seek worthy remuneration for their efforts while management attempts to find cost-cutting measures intended to “ease” expenses. Some segments of society see teachers as people who can’t make it at a “real” job so they get into teaching. They work nine months of the year and have three months off every summer, go to work at 8 in the morning and are done by 3:30. What a life – how much do they need to be compensated, anyway?
I spoke with a recent graduate a couple of weeks ago who is in college and working toward a degree. I asked him how things were going and the response was not surprising: “Coach, I had a rough first semester, but I got it together and am doing just fine now. But I sure miss high school.” I asked why, and he said, “You guys cared about us even though we didn’t always treat you right. You guys really helped us get stuff done so we could pass.” I described how little concern his college professors had for him getting to class on time or turning in assignments and he exclaimed, “Right, Coach, they just lecture and we get our stuff done or we fail. They don’t even care if you show up to class.”
It’s a commonly celebrated ideal in our country that differences make us stronger as a nation. It’s hard to disagree with that. Without differences I’m certain we would be living in the kind of sterile world only George Orwell’s “Big Brother” would appreciate.
I was looking out my front window last week and mentioned to my wife, Nadine, that our neighbor’s mailbox looked like it was broken. We soon learned some of our local teens had been connected to some destructive choices over spring break. I began thinking about what would possess teenagers to commit random acts of mailbox mischief and then I remembered something: Many years ago as I was making my way through the choppy waters of high school, I did something really stupid. But the lesson I learned was unforgettable and helped me understand the effect my actions have on others.
About this time every year I take my boys out to a friend’s house so we can assist with some bothersome critters that dig holes all over his fields. We train our sights on the vexatious vermin that can make farming a nightmare. When we are leaving and thanking our host, he always says, “Come back anytime, there’s plenty more where they came from.” We must be making a dent in the population of pesky perpetrators but the more we send out our rapid-fire solutions, the more problems show up to take their place. Once a year, about this same time, the State of Colorado comes out to Craig to hunt down our students overall capacity in academics.
The snow has melted and rocks on the road are becoming a nuisance. Seeing rocks all over the road, I’m reminded of kids. Let me explain. The rocks, so important just a few weeks ago, are lying about but aren’t needed anymore. The gravel once had a purpose but now the snow and ice have melted and those little rocks just serve to cause all kinds of problems.
Alfredo Lebron said he has grown accustomed to the expectations placed upon him. Lebron, a Moffat County High School senior, was expected to be the top 4A cross-country runner in the fall and in October, fulfilled his goal of a state title. Now with track and field season here, Lebron again is expected to be the runner to beat in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races as the top returning placer from last year’s state meet. “I’m not really nervous and I try not to sound cocky, but you get out there with a different mindset that you can do good if you put in the work,” he said. “I know a bunch of people will be going for me, but I will go out there and do what I can do and hopefully that is enough to get an undefeated season.”
Imagine this: You’re sitting in a classroom and all you see when you look around are people who “get it.” But you’re not one of those people, and the teacher keeps moving along because everyone else seems to understand. You begin to raise your hand but think better of it. “Not in this class, they’ll all think I’m stupid,” you tell yourself. “I’ll just pretend I understand and figure it out later.”
Why? The reason, purpose, or cause of something has always been at the forefront of any improvement in our culture. The results may not always be what were intended, but the developments cast a long shadow over most everything we do. Think about the advancements in technology since someone asked why and NASA made it their goal to escape gravity and land on the moon. Children are famous for asking why when they see little immediate personal benefit in something we ask them to do. Students are notorious with the why question when teachers ask them to do something in the classroom that seems as though it serves no immediate learning benefit.
I understand it. Three words every teacher, coach, or parent loves to hear. Making the connection from what is taught to what is understood to what is practiced can be the most challenging part of raising young people. When athletes make the connection some spectacular things happen on the competitive surface. Inevitably a coach whose players buy in to the system and understand the strategy begin to do things as a team that were previously impossible. Talent is a measure of success but infusing talent with team leads to incredible results. We all have memories of the season, or game, or practice when we were all in the zone and the connection was solid.
Ask successful people in our community to what they attribute their success and most will say, “If you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.” Communities and businesses are constantly looking for ways to look more attractive and inviting. As I make my way around our neighborhood on my weekly jogs, I often see a couple out walking and picking up trash. Cool. It’s just a little thing, but they do anyway.
Everybody knows “those people.” We’re glad to talk about them because they tend to make us feel better about ourselves. Almost every night of the week, there’s a full line-up of “those people” on TV. People who hoard, need an intervention, make a living picking garbage, dig through the swamp, make illegal alcohol, or drive around repossessing vehicles from unsuspecting delinquents. Every community has some of “those people.” They stand by the exit at Walmart holding up a sign asking for help. Some won’t find a job or always seem to be on welfare.
Look around our local community, sports teams or extra-curricular activities and you’ll see or hear mantras of all kinds. They’re found on T-shirts, banners, and even painted on the sides of vehicles. Most are clever, some are less than appropriate, but they all have an underlying meaning: This is what we stand for. As a teacher, I’m intrigued by these pithy phrases.
Moffat County is a land with incredible natural resource potential and companies have been around the area the past couple of years trying to realize that potential. The resource potential our school system is attempting to realize is one measured by success in two areas: academic and athletic. This resource is children 5 to 18 years old and their success sometimes hinges on laborious mandates from local, state and federal agencies. If you were to talk to teachers in our various buildings about how we can be more successful academically and athletically, you would get some very different answers.
History is important, but what’s more critical is how you move forward. A wise community member referred to momentum a couple of weeks ago during the Booster Club meeting. Getting something started and changing a mindset can be incredibly difficult. If you attended the basketball game Friday night at Moffat County High School, you can see changes are happening. Led by athletic director Jeff Simon, the atmosphere was great. The band was playing, fans were cheering, and athletes were hard at work on the court. But, the Bulldogs came up short in both contests. Some might argue all the effort put forth to watch our team lose was wasted momentum.
Since moving to Craig to be an English teacher and football coach 14 years ago, there have been many changes at our high school. When Joel Sheridan hired me in 1998, Moffat County High School was a hub of activity with a student body of more than 875. John Haddan asked me to run the football team’s offense. I met Kip Hafey, and we all got to work on the upcoming season. We had a coaching staff of former high school and college players, and I was confident we could whip 70 players into a fighting machine.
For Todd Trapp, the Moffat County High School girls varsity track team head coach, success for this year’s team has to start with his seniors. Britteny Ivers, Maddy Jourgensen and Lauren Roberts have been on the track team all four years, Trapp said. In their final year, Trapp said he expects big things.